Cough

Definition

Coughing is an important way to keep your throat and airways clear. However, too much coughing may mean you have a disease or disorder.

Some coughs are dry. Others are considered productive. A productive cough is one that brings up mucus. Mucus is also called phlegm or sputum.

Coughs can be either acute or chronic:

Causes

Recent upper airway infections, such as the common cold and flu, can cause coughs. Other common causes include:

If a child has a barking cough, see croup.

Home Care

Although coughing can be a troubling symptom, it is usually your body's way of healing. Here are some tips to help ease your cough:

NOTE: Medical experts have recommended against using cough and cold drugs in children under age 6. Talk to your doctor before your child takes any type of over-the-counter cough medicine, even if it is labeled for children. These medicines likely will not work for children, and they may have serious side effects.

Medications available without a prescription include:

Do not expect a doctor to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections like colds or flu. Antibiotics do not work on viruses. Antibiotics also will not help coughs from allergies.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 if you have:

Call your doctor right away if you have:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

In an emergency, you will be treated first to stabilize the condition. After the condition is stable, the doctor will ask questions about your cough, including:

The health care provider will do an examination of your ears, nose, throat, and chest.

Tests that may be performed include:

Prevention


Review Date: 5/25/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.