Cough

A cough is a natural reflex that protects your lungs. Coughing helps clear your airways of lung irritants, such as smoke and mucus (a slimy substance).

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

About Coughing

A cough is a natural reflex that protects your lungs. Coughing helps clear your airways of lung irritants, such as smoke and mucus (a slimy substance). This helps prevent infections. A cough also can be a symptom of a medical problem.

Prolonged coughing can cause unpleasant side effects, such as chest pain, exhaustion, light-headedness, and loss of bladder control. Coughing also can interfere with sleep, socializing, and work.

Overview

Coughing occurs when the nerve endings in your airways become irritated. The airways are tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs. Certain substances (such as smoke and pollen), medical conditions, and medicines can irritate these nerve endings.

A cough can be acute, subacute, or chronic, depending on how long it lasts.

An acute cough lasts less than 3 weeks. Common causes of an acute cough are a common cold or other upper respiratory (RES-pi-rah-tor-e)... Read more about Cough

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Does treating obstructive sleep apnoea in children who also have chronic cough improve their cough?

Sleep apnoea (a condition where breathing stops for short spells during sleep) and chronic cough in children are significant medical problems and cause a significant burden of distress to parents. Interventions for sleep apnoea are associated with risks of morbidity and mortality, in addition to substantial costs. This review aimed to examine the effect of the treatment of sleep apnoea in children with chronic cough, however no randomised controlled trials were found. Currently there is no evidence to support the use of interventions for sleep apnoea in children with chronic cough and a randomised controlled trial is needed.

Inhaled beta2‐agonists for non‐specific chronic cough in children

The existence of cough variant asthma (cough as the only respiratory symptom without any evidence of airway obstruction) is controversial. This review raises the appropriateness of the common practice of using inhaled ß2 agonists in the treatment of children with cough without any other evidence of airway obstruction. The review found that there is nothing at present to suggest that treatment with ß2 agonists will be beneficial in treating nonspecific isolated cough in children.

Indoor air modification interventions for prolonged non‐specific cough in children

Prolonged, non‐specific cough is common in childhood and is treated with a variety of therapies. There is a growing market for non‐pharmacological treatments and these include air‐modification modalities, (ionisers, vaporisers, humidifiers, air filters and regular vacuuming). No randomised controlled trials examining the efficacy of air‐modulation modalities in the management of prolonged, non‐specific cough in children were found. Therefore, based on the evidence currently available, a recommendation for these treatments cannot be given. Due to the popularity of air‐modulation modalities, randomised controlled trials in this area are clearly needed.

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Summaries for consumers

Does treating obstructive sleep apnoea in children who also have chronic cough improve their cough?

Sleep apnoea (a condition where breathing stops for short spells during sleep) and chronic cough in children are significant medical problems and cause a significant burden of distress to parents. Interventions for sleep apnoea are associated with risks of morbidity and mortality, in addition to substantial costs. This review aimed to examine the effect of the treatment of sleep apnoea in children with chronic cough, however no randomised controlled trials were found. Currently there is no evidence to support the use of interventions for sleep apnoea in children with chronic cough and a randomised controlled trial is needed.

Inhaled beta2‐agonists for non‐specific chronic cough in children

The existence of cough variant asthma (cough as the only respiratory symptom without any evidence of airway obstruction) is controversial. This review raises the appropriateness of the common practice of using inhaled ß2 agonists in the treatment of children with cough without any other evidence of airway obstruction. The review found that there is nothing at present to suggest that treatment with ß2 agonists will be beneficial in treating nonspecific isolated cough in children.

Indoor air modification interventions for prolonged non‐specific cough in children

Prolonged, non‐specific cough is common in childhood and is treated with a variety of therapies. There is a growing market for non‐pharmacological treatments and these include air‐modification modalities, (ionisers, vaporisers, humidifiers, air filters and regular vacuuming). No randomised controlled trials examining the efficacy of air‐modulation modalities in the management of prolonged, non‐specific cough in children were found. Therefore, based on the evidence currently available, a recommendation for these treatments cannot be given. Due to the popularity of air‐modulation modalities, randomised controlled trials in this area are clearly needed.

See all (192)

More about Cough

Photo of an adult

Also called: Coughing

Other terms to know:
Mucus, Phlegm, Sputum

Related articles:
How the Lungs Work

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