Coughing is a protective reflex that ensures that excess secretions or foreign bodies are cleared from the airways. Some people treat it with:

After a deep inhalation, the initial brief closure of the larynx is followed by a rapid exhalation. At the moment the larynx opens, the high pressure created in the chest and lungs sharply expels air, which captures the particles encountered in its path.

The cough occurs reflexively (involuntarily) or is involuntarily induced. The reflex cough is initiated by irritation of the cough receptors in the bronchi. Then the nerve impulses are carried to the cough center in the brain (or more precisely in the medulla oblongata), where the work of the muscles of the chest, diaphragm and larynx involved in coughing is coordinated.

A distinction is made between acute cough (less than 3 weeks), subacute (3-8 weeks) and chronic (more than 8 weeks).

Depending on the nature of the cough, it can be divided into dry (no expectoration) and productive (wet, moist), i.e. with expectoration (the secret released is professionally called sputum).

What are the causes of cough?
Cough is the most common symptom of diseases of the respiratory system. An acute cough is most often a symptom of a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract – pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, less often of a bacterial infection (a very severe cough occurs with pertussis) or allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis. It also occurs when a foreign body enters the airways, asthma attacks, exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and pulmonary embolism.

Most often, subacute cough occurs after a respiratory viral infection, when the damaged airway epithelium recovers (usually lasting up to several weeks).

The most common causes of chronic cough are:

– asthma

– taking angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (drugs used to treat arterial hypertension, heart failure, coronary disease and kidney disease)

– Cigarette smoking and COPD

– gastroesophageal reflux (the discharge of stomach contents into the esophagus and pharynx, and from there into the larynx and lower respiratory tract)

– sinusitis

Less commonly caused by lung neoplasms, respiratory tract irritation from air pollution or in the workplace (e.g. dust, various chemical compounds), tuberculosis, chronic interstitial lung diseases and foreign bodies in the respiratory tract. Remember that chronic cough is one of the main symptoms of lung tumors. Cough can also have a psychogenic character.

The doctor can suspect the cause of the cough by the nature of the cough and the appearance of sputum. A dry cough indicates viral infections, asthma, interstitial lung diseases, heart failure or is associated with taking an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor (found in about 15% of people taking these drugs, usually appears within the first week of starting treatment and disappears after stopping the drug, but sometimes only after several weeks).

If purulent sputum (green or yellow) is expectorated, the cough could be due to an infection of the paranasal sinuses, bronchi or lungs. Coughing up large amounts (even half a cup) of purulent sputum indicates bronchiectasis. Cough with expectoration of mucous sputum (whitish), thick and viscous, usually in the morning hours, is characteristic of chronic bronchitis and COPD. Transparent and viscous sputum is characteristic of asthma, lumps and plugs in sputum occur with airway mycosis and cystic fibrosis. Bloody sputum, i.e. colored by blood (see hemoptysis), may be caused by: bronchitis, bronchiectasis, lung cancer, tuberculosis and bacterial pneumonia.

If food particles can be seen in the sputum, this means that there is a connection between the trachea and esophagus (tracheoesophageal fistula) or that the person coughing has choked on food. However, it should be remembered that the above information is indicative. A complete evaluation of a chronic cough always requires a visit to a doctor!