Cough is a natural reflex that helps clear our airways from irritants and mucus.

While it is often a normal bodily response, a persistent cough can be an indication of an underlying health issue.

What is Cough?

Cough is a reflex action of your body that helps you clear your airways of irritants, such as such as dust, pollen, smoke or bacteria.

The process of coughing involves the diaphragm and chest muscles, which contract to create a high-pressure environment in the airways, forcing air and any foreign substances out.

Most often, coughing is a symptom of an underlying illness, such as a cold, flu or allergies.

Coughing can also be caused by environmental irritants, such as air pollution or chemical fumes.

The cough reflex can also be triggered by irritation in the throat or lungs due to postnasal drip, smoking or acid reflux.

Depending on the cause, cough can range from mild and annoying to severe and debilitating.

Types of Coughs

Coughs may seem similar at first, but each type has its unique characteristics and underlying causes.

Here, we’ll explore the various types of coughs, making it easier for you to identify them and understand the reasons behind them.

  • Acute cough: Lasts less than three weeks, typically caused by viral infections like the common cold or flu.
  • Subacute cough: Persists between three and eight weeks, often a residual effect of an acute cough or a lingering infection.
  • Chronic cough: Lasts more than eight weeks, often indicative of a more serious underlying condition.
  • Dry cough: Occurs without mucus production, usually caused by irritation or inflammation of the airways.
  • Wet cough: Produces mucus or phlegm, often associated with infections or lung conditions.
  • Nocturnal cough: Worsens at night, commonly seen in asthma and postnasal drip. The causes can be respiratory, non-respiratory and systemic.
  • Croup cough: A barking cough, often seen in children with croup, a viral infection that causes inflammation in the upper airways (inflammation of the larynx and trachea).
  • Whooping cough: A severe one that occurs with a “whooping” sound, caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis.

What Triggers Coughs?

Your body reacts many possible triggers that make you cough. From infections to environmental irritants, the causes are many.

  • Viral infections: The common cold and flu are frequent causes of acute coughs.
  • Bacterial infections: Pneumonia and bronchitis (in people with underlying medical conditions) are examples of bacterial infections that can lead to coughing.
  • Allergies: Seasonal or environmental allergies can cause coughs due to irritation of the airways.
  • Asthma: Asthma-related coughs are often triggered by allergens, cold air or exercise (exercise-induced bronchoconstriction).
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Stomach acid reflux can irritate the throat, leading to coughing.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): A group of lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that cause chronic coughing.
  • Postnasal drip: Mucus dripping down the throat from the nasal passages can trigger coughs.
  • Environmental irritants: Smoke, pollution and chemical fumes can cause irritation and coughing.
  • Medication-induced cough: Certain medications, particularly angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which are commonly prescribed for high blood pressure and heart conditions, can cause a persistent dry cough as a side effect.
  • Smoking: Both active smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can cause coughing as they both cause irritation and damage to the respiratory system. Tobacco smoke contains numerous harmful chemicals that can lead to inflammation, increased mucus production and reduced lung function, all of which contribute to the development of a cough.
  • Pulmonary embolism: A blood clot in the lungs can cause shortness of breath, chest pain and coughing, sometimes with blood-streaked mucus. This is a potentially life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention.
  • Heart failure: In some cases, heart failure can lead to a buildup of fluid in the lungs, causing shortness of breath and coughing. This cough is often worse when lying down or during physical activity. 


Your doctor will start by taking your medical history and performing a physical examination. Depending on the suspected cause, additional diagnostic tests may include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Sputum culture
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Allergy tests
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Esophageal pH monitoring

Treatment and Management

Choosing the right treatment is key to managing coughs and regaining control over your respiratory health.

Explore various options that target the root cause and help alleviate your symptoms effectively.

  • Over-the-counter medications: Cough suppressants, expectorants, decongestants and antihistamines can provide temporary relief.
  • Prescription medications: Antibiotics, inhaled corticosteroids and bronchodilators may be prescribed for more severe or chronic coughs.
  • Home remedies: Hydration, humidifiers, throat lozenges and honey can provide soothing relief.
  • Lifestyle changes: Smoking cessation, avoiding allergens and irritants and managing GERD can help reduce coughing.

When to See a Doctor

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms along with your cough.

  • Persistent or worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • High fever
  • Unintentional weight loss


With a handful of smart preventive measures, you can minimise your chances of experiencing coughs and improve your respiratory health.

Though occasional coughing helps maintain clear airways, there are effective ways to reduce other coughs.

  • Practice good hand hygiene: Regular handwashing can help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria that cause coughs.
  • Strengthen the immune system: A healthy diet such as a diet rich in fiber-rich fruits, regular exercise and adequate sleep can help bolster your immune system, making you less susceptible to cough-inducing infections.
  • Manage allergies and asthma: Taking appropriate medications and avoiding allergens can help prevent allergy- and asthma-related coughs.
  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke: Cigarette smoke can irritate the airways and increase the risk of respiratory infections.
  • Reduce exposure to environmental irritants: Limiting your exposure to air pollution, chemical fumes and other irritants can help prevent coughs.


Coughs are a common and natural reflex that helps protect our respiratory system.

While they can be bothersome, it’s important to understand the underlying causes, types and appropriate treatments to ensure a speedy recovery.

Don’t hesitate to consult your doctor at once, if you’re ever concerned about your cough.

If you have a question related to this blog post, write to us here and we will update this post with a response.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to write to us at support@nugenomics.in or call us directly at +91 9176655912

You can also visit Here to know more about how we can help you and make your life better.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Healthline, American Lung Association, NHS inform, WebMD, Medline Plus, NCBI.