What Is a Cough?
A cough can be voluntary or involuntary, and it is the body’s way to help clear the airways of irritants and to prevent infection. Cough is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
A cough is categorized as acute, subacute, or chronic depending on how long it lasts.
What Are Other Symptoms Seen With Cough?
A cough may be accompanied by other cold symptoms, including:
See a doctor immediately if you experience the following symptoms accompanying a cough because it may be serious:
What Causes Cough?
Causes of cough include:
- Most common cause of chronic cough
- Postnasal drip
- Lung conditions
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Certain medications such as ACE inhibitors
- Inhalation of foreign objects into the lungs (usually in children)
- Congestive heart failure
How Is Cough Diagnosed?
Cough is diagnosed with a history and physical exam. Tests may be used to help diagnose the cause of the cough.
What Is the Treatment for Cough?
Treatment of cough depends on the cause and whether the cough is acute or chronic. Treatment may include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines containing guaifenesin and/or dextromethorphan (these can be found as cough syrups and in tablet form)
- Antibiotics for infection caused by bacteria such as bacterial pneumonia and bronchitis
- Inhaled bronchodilators and inhaled steroids to treat asthma and COPD
- Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or nasal inhalers like ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) for postnasal drip
- Famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac) omeprazole (Prilosec, Prilosec OTC), lansoprazole (Prevacid, Prevacid 24-Hour), rabeprazole (Aciphex), pantoprazole (Protonix), esomeprazole (Nexium) to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- If cough is caused by an ACE inhibitor, your doctor may switch your medicine
- Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor
- Pain relievers (analgesics) to treat the pain caused by coughing
If the cough is not serious, home remedies may help relieve symptoms, such as:
- Staying hydrated
- Inhaling steam in a shower or using a humidifier
- Gargling with warm saltwater
- Cough lozenges (lozenges are not recommended for young children; they can be a choking hazard)
- Don’t smoke
- Avoiding allergens such as pollen, dust, animals, or mold
- Avoiding inhaled irritants such as smoke, dust, and other pollutants
- For GERD: Avoiding foods that increase reflux, avoiding meals before lying down, elevating the head while sleeping
How Do You Prevent Cough?
To prevent cough:
- Don't smoke
- Manage chronic conditions that may cause cough such as asthma, postnasal drip, or GERD
- Avoid people who are sick with the cold, flu, COVID, bronchitis, or pneumonia
- Get the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine
- Eat fruit
- Research suggests diets high in fruit fiber and flavonoids may prevent chronic productive cough