Coughing is a reflex that clears the windpipe and air passageways in the lungs, keeping them open. The cough reflex is an important defense mechanism: Coughing expels bacteria, mucus, and foreign substances that plug the airways and can cause pneumonia. Any process that irritates the windpipe or air passageways in the lungs can cause a cough.
Common causes for cough include:
- postnasal drip
- chronic bronchitis
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- upper respiratory infections
More rarely, it can be related to a malignancy or chronic inflammatory process.
A cough may be dry, or it may expel mucus from the air passageways. Symptoms that may occur with a cough include fever, chest wall pain, wheezing, sinus congestion, voice changes, swallowing changes, and breathing difficulty.
Treatment for a cough depends on the underlying cause. Cough treatment may include:
- cough suppressant medications
- inhaled medications that help to open the air passages
- avoiding smoking
After proper evaluation, appropriate treatment can be determined.