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:
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.
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.
Call 911 if you have:
Call your doctor right away if you have:
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:
Chang AB, Glomb WB. Guidelines for evaluating chronic cough in pediatrics: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2006;129(1 Suppl):260S-283S.
Chung KF, Widdicombe JG. Cough. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 29.
Irwin RS, Baumann MH, Bolser DC, et al. Diagnosis and management of cough executive summary: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2006;129(1 Suppl):1S-23S.
Updated 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.
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