A cough is a sudden expulsion of air from the lungs. Its purpose is usually to clear secretions and inhaled foreign substances from the lungs and respiratory tract.
There are different types of cough:
Subacute cough is often a cough that follows a respiratory infection. It can also be caused by exposure to irritants or to anything that can cause chronic cough.
A chronic cough has many causes. Common examples include:
Factors that may increase your risk of developing a cough include:
A cough can be a symptom of an underlying condition.
Coughs can be productive or dry. You may find that your cough is worse when waking up and during the night while lying down.
Call your doctor if you have:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Acute cough is usually diagnosed by its accompanying symptoms.
During the diagnosis, your doctor will look for symptoms that suggest an underlying cause. Tests may include:
The best treatment for a cough is to treat the underlying condition.
There are many over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products available. These include decongestants, expectorants, antihistamines, and antitussives.
Note: Cough and cold medicines in should not be used in children under 2 years old, and they are not recommended in children under 4 years old. The US Food and Drug Administration has not completed its review regarding the safety of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in children ages 2-11 years. Rare, but serious side effects have been reported.
To reduce your chances of developing a cough:
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Lung Association
The Canadian Lung Association
Chronic cough in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated June 10, 2013. Accessed August 26, 2013.
Cough. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/cough.html. Accessed August 26, 2013.
Coughlin L. Cough: Diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(4):567-575.
1/30/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Public health advisory: Nonprescription cough and cold medicine use in children—FDA recommends that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products not be used for infants and children under 2 years of age. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm051137.htm. Updated August 19, 2013. Accessed August 26, 2013.
1/30/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CM Jr. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:1149-1153.
11/12/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Smith S, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in ambulatory settings. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(9):CD001831.
Last reviewed August 2013 by David Horn, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.