Scroll Top

Why Am I Coughing?

Why Am I Coughing?


What you need to know about coughing

Coughing is a reflex activity that clears mucus or foreign irritants from your throat. While everyone coughs to clear their throat now and then, a number of diseases might cause coughing to become more regular.

An acute cough is defined as a cough that lasts shorter than three weeks. Within two weeks, most coughing episodes will clear up or at least greatly improve.

A subacute cough is defined as one that lasts three to eight weeks and improves by the end of that time. A chronic cough is defined as a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks.

If you’re coughing up blood or have a “barking” cough, you should consult a doctor. If your cough hasn’t improved after a few weeks, you should contact them because it could be a sign of anything more serious.

Symptoms of a cough

Coughs can be acute or persistent in nature. Acute coughs start suddenly and last for less than three weeks.  This is the cough that most people experience when they have a cold, the flu, or acute bronchitis.

Coughs that linger longer than eight weeks are considered chronic (or longer than four weeks in children). A chronic cough might wake you up in the middle of the night and cause fatigue. It can also be accompanied by additional indications and symptoms, such as:

  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • A feeling of liquid running down the back of your throat (postnasal drip)
  • Frequent throat clearing and sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heartburn or a sour taste in your mouth
  • Rarely, coughing up blood

What causes a cough?

Several conditions, both transient and permanent, might induce a cough.

Clearing the throat

Coughing is a common method of cleaning the throat. Coughing is a reflex reaction that occurs when your lungs become blocked with mucus or foreign particles such as smoke or dust. It is an attempt to eliminate the particles and make breathing easier.
This form of coughing is usually infrequent, but it will become more often if you are exposed to irritants like smoke.


Viruses and bacteria

A respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or flu, is the most prevalent cause of cough.

A virus causes respiratory tract infections, which can last anywhere from a few days to a week. Infections caused by the flu can take a bit longer to heal and may require medications in rare cases.

Coughing is frequently caused by smoking. When you smoke, you almost always get a chronic cough with a particular sound. It’s commonly referred to as a smoker’s cough.
Acid reflux
Stomach acids back up into your throat when you suffer heartburn, especially at night. They can cause coughing by irritating your windpipe, vocal cords, and throat.
Inhaling a trigger like a mould can cause your lungs to respond if you have them. They’re attempting to get rid of whatever it is that’s bugging them.
Asthma is a prevalent cause of coughing in young children. Asthmatic coughing is usually accompanied by wheezing, making it easy to spot.

Exacerbations of asthma should be treated with an inhaler. As children get older, they may be able to grow out of their asthma.

This can be any of three dangerous conditions: emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The tubes in your airway known as the bronchial tubes and the tiny sacs known as the alveoli that transfer oxygen into your blood and eliminate carbon dioxide are weakened by these disorders. The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking.
Cold air, cigarette smoke, and strong scents can all trigger a coughing spell, even if you’re not allergic.
Postnasal drip
Mucus seeps down from your nose into your throat when you’re congested, causing you to cough. Colds, flu, sinus infections, allergies, and other disorders can cause postnasal drip.

Coughing is a common side effect of several drugs, but it is a rare occurrence. Coughing is a side effect of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which are often used to treat high blood pressure and cardiac diseases.

The following are two of the most common:

  • Zestril (lisinopril)
  • Vasotec (enalapril)

When the medication is stopped, the coughing stops.

Other conditions

Coughing can also be caused by the following conditions:

  • Damage to the vocal cords
  • Sleep apnea
  • Bacterial infections such as pneumonia, whooping cough, and croup
  • Serious conditions such as pulmonary embolism and heart failure

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is another prevalent cause of chronic cough. Stomach contents flow back into the oesophagus in this scenario. This backflow triggers a tracheal reflex, causing the sufferer to cough.

What Does My Cough Type Indicate?

What Does My Cough Type Indicate?

Coughing is your body’s technique of clearing an irritation from your system.

Your neurological system sends a signal to your brain when something irritates your throat or airway. Your brain reacts by instructing your chest and abdominal muscles to contract and exhale a burst of air.

Coughing is a vital protective response that helps your body protect itself from irritants such as:

  • Mucus
  • Smoke
  • Allergens, such as dust, mould, and pollen

Coughing can be a sign of a variety of illnesses and ailments. The characteristics of your cough might sometimes help you figure out what’s causing it.

Coughs can be classified as follows:

  • Behaviour or experience – What causes the cough and when does it occur? Is it at night, after a meal, or during working out?
  • Characteristics – What does your cough sound like and what does it feel like? Wet or dry hacking?
  • Duration – Do you have a cough that lasts less than two weeks, six weeks, or eight weeks?
  • Effects – Do you have symptoms like urine incontinence, vomiting, or insomnia as a result of your cough?
  • Grade – Is it really that bad? Is it bothersome, chronic, or incapacitating?

Your cough reflex is triggered by an impediment in your airway on occasion. If you or your child has consumed something that may be obstructing your airway, seek medical help right once. Choking symptoms include:

  • Skin that is bluish
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Not being able to speak or cry
  • Breathing noises such as wheezing, whistling, or other strange breathing noises
  • Coughing that is weak or ineffectual
  • Panic

Call 999 and do the Heimlich manoeuvre or CPR if you see any of these signs.

Wet Cough

A wet cough, also known as a productive cough, is one that produces mucus.

Wet coughs are usually caused by a cold or the flu. They might appear gradually or suddenly, and they may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Postnasal drip
  • Fatigue

Wet coughs sound wet because mucus is being pushed out of your respiratory system, which includes:

  • Throat
  • Nose
  • Lungs
  • Airways

You may feel something trapped or dripping at the back of your throat or in your chest if you have a wet cough. Mucus may enter your mouth as a result of some of your coughs.

Coughs can be acute, lasting less than three weeks, or chronic, lasting more than eight weeks in adults and four weeks in children. The length of a cough might reveal a lot about its cause.

The following are some of the conditions that might induce a wet cough:

Coughs that persist fewer than three weeks in newborns, toddlers, and children are usually invariably caused by a cold or the flu.

Remedies for a wet cough

  • Toddlers and babies. Use a cool-mist humidifier to help. You can also use saline drops in the nasal passages followed by a bulb syringe to wipe the nose. Cough and cold medications sold over the counter (OTC) should not be given to children under the age of two.
  • Children. In a small clinical experiment, 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey given half an hour before bedtime reduced cough and improved sleep in children aged 1 and above. To hydrate the air at night, use a humidifier. Before using over-the-counter cough and cold drugs as a treatment, consult your doctor.
  • Adults. Adults can relieve acute wet coughs with over-the-counter cough and cold symptom relievers or honey. Antibiotics or other treatments may be required if a cough lasts longer than three weeks.

Dry Cough

A dry cough is one that does not produce any mucus. Your cough reflex may be triggered by a tickle at the back of your throat, resulting in hacking coughs.

Dry coughs can be difficult to control and can come in fits. Dry coughs occur when your respiratory tract is inflamed or irritated, but there is no additional mucus to cough up.

Upper respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu, are frequently the cause of dry coughs.

Dry coughs are frequent in both children and adults for several weeks after a cold or the flu has passed. Dry cough can also be caused by the following factors:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Croup
  • Exposure to irritants such as air pollution, dust, or smoke
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Laryngitis
  • Medications, especially ACE inhibitors
  • Sinusitis
  • Sore throat
  • Tonsillitis
COVID-19 and dry cough

One of the most common COVID-19 symptoms is a dry cough. Fever and shortness of breath are two more COVID-19 symptoms. The NHS recommends the following if you’re sick and suspect you might have COVID-19:

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 – everyone aged 12 and over can book vaccination appointments now
  • Meet people outside if possible
  • Open doors and windows to let in fresh air if meeting people inside
  • Limit the number of people you meet and avoid crowded places
  • Wear a face covering in shops, on public transport and when it’s hard to stay away from other people (particularly indoors or in crowded places)
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day

If you suffer any of the following symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Heaviness or tightness in the chest
  • Bluish lips
  • Confusion

Learn more at this resource page for COVID-19.

Remedies for a dry cough

The reason for dry cough influences the treatment options.

  • Toddlers and babies. Dry coughs in babies and toddlers usually do not require treatment. A humidifier can help them feel more at ease. Bring your youngster into a steamy bathroom or outside in the cool night air to treat croup breathing.
  • Children. A humidifier will keep their respiratory system moist and prevent them from becoming dehydrated. Cough drops can also be used to treat sore throats in older children. If their symptoms last longer than three weeks, consult your doctor about possible explanations. Antibiotics, antihistamines, or asthma treatments may be required for your youngster.
  • Adults. Adults with chronic, long-term dry cough might have a variety of causes. Symptoms such as discomfort and heartburn should be reported to your doctor. Antibiotics, antacids, asthma drugs, or more tests may be required. Tell your doctor about all of the medications and supplements you’re using right now.

Paroxysmal cough

Paroxysmal cough is characterised by strong, uncontrollable coughing bouts. It’s tiresome and difficult to have a paroxysmal cough. People may vomit if they are unable to take a breath.

The bacterial infection pertussis, popularly known as whooping cough, causes intense coughing fits.

The lungs release all of the air they have during whooping cough bouts, forcing patients to inhale violently with a “whoop” sound.

Babies are more susceptible to whooping cough and are more likely to have significant complications as a result of it. Whooping cough is potentially fatal for them.

The easiest approach to avoid contracting pertussis is to get vaccinated at the age of two months and olderTrusted Source.

Paroxysmal coughs are a common side effect of whooping cough. Other factors that may contribute to a bad coughing fit include:

  • Asthma
  • Choking
  • COPD
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
Remedies for a paroxysmal cough

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics in people of all ages.

Because whooping cough is very contagious, family members and caregivers of someone who has it should be treated as well. The sooner whooping cough is diagnosed and treated, the better.

Croup cough

Croup is a viral infection that most commonly affects children under the age of five.

The upper airway becomes inflamed and enlarged as a result of croup. Airways in young toddlers are already narrower. It gets difficult to breathe as the swelling narrows the airway further.

Croup generates a distinctive “barking” cough, similar to that of a seal. A raspy voice and squeaky breathing noises are also caused by swelling in and around the voice box.

Croup can be frightening for both kids and parents. Children may:

  • struggle for breath
  • while inhaling, create high-pitched noises
  • breathe very rapidly

In extreme cases, children become pale or bluish.

Remedies for a croup cough

Croup normally goes away on its own within a few days. The following are some examples of home remedies:

  • Installing a cool-mist humidifier in their bedroom
  • Allowing the child to spend up to 10 minutes in a steam-filled bathroom allowing the child to breathe fresh air
  • Taking the child for a car ride with the windows half-open to let in some fresh air
  • As advised by your paediatrician, administering children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever
  • Ensuring that your child gets plenty of rest and drinks plenty of fluids
  • In extreme situations, a nebulizer breathing treatment or a prescription steroid to reduce inflammation may be required.

When to call a doctor

Within two weeks, most coughs will clear up, or at the very least greatly improve. If your cough hasn’t improved during this time, consult a doctor because it could be a sign of something more serious.

If you acquire any new symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Fever
  • Chest pains
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion

If you’re coughing up blood or having trouble breathing, seek emergency medical help, call 999.


Depending on the reason, coughs can be treated in a variety of ways. The majority of treatments for healthy adults will include self-care.

Treatment at home

Antibiotics cannot be used to treat a virus-induced cough. You may, however, calm it down by doing the following:

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • When sleeping, elevate your head with additional pillows.
  • To calm your throat, use cough drops.
  • To clear mucus and soothe your throat, gargle with warm saltwater on a daily basis.
  • Smoke and dust are irritants to avoid.
  • To alleviate your cough and cleanse your airway, add honey or ginger to hot tea.
  • To unclog your nose and make breathing easier, use decongestant sprays.

More cough cures can be found here.

Medical treatment

Typically, medical treatment entails your doctor peering down your throat, listening to your cough, and inquiring about any other symptoms you may be experiencing.

Your doctor will prescribe oral antibiotics if your cough is caused by bacteria. To fully treat the cough, you’ll normally need to take the prescription for a week. They may also prescribe expectorant cough syrups or codeine-based cough suppressants.

If your doctor can’t figure out what’s causing your cough, he or she may prescribe more testing. This could involve the following:

  • An X-ray of your chest to see if your lungs are clear
  • If they suspect an allergic reaction, they should get blood and skin tests.
  • Analysis of sputum or mucus for evidence of bacteria or tuberculosis

Although cough is rarely the lone sign of heart problems, your doctor may order echocardiography to confirm that your heart is operating properly and isn’t the source of your cough.

Additional testing may be required in difficult cases:

  • CT scan is a type of x-ray. A CT scan gives you a better look into your airways and chest. It can help you figure out what’s causing your cough.
  • pH monitoring in the oesophagus. Your doctor may refer you to a gastrointestinal specialist or a pulmonary (lung) specialist if the CT scan does not reveal the cause. Oesophageal pH monitoring, which searches for signs of GERD, is one of the tests these specialists may use.

Doctors may give cough suppressants if the previous treatments are either impossible or extremely unlikely to be helpful or if the cough is expected to go away on its own without the requirement of intervention.

What happens if you don’t treat it?

In most circumstances, a cough will go away on its own within a week or two of its onset. Coughing usually has no long-term consequences or symptoms.

A severe cough can sometimes lead to temporary difficulties, such as:

  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Fractured ribs

These are extremely rare, and they usually go away once the cough goes away.

A cough that is a sign of something more serious is unlikely to go away on its own. If the illness is not treated, it may worsen and produce other symptoms.

What precautions may be taken to avoid getting a cough?

While coughing is required to clean the airways sometimes, there are strategies to avoid additional coughs.

Quit smoking

A persistent cough is frequently caused by smoking. It’s not easy to get rid of a smoker’s cough.

From devices to counselling groups and support networks, there is a range of options available to assist you in quitting smoking. You’ll be considerably less likely to suffer colds or develop a chronic cough once you quit smoking.

Dietary changes

People who ate diets strong in fruit, fibre, and flavonoids were less likely to have chronic respiratory symptoms like a cough, according to a 2004 study.

Your doctor may be able to advise you or send you to a dietician if you need assistance modifying your diet.

Medical conditions

To avoid coming into contact with germs, avoid somebody with a contagious condition such as bronchitis if at all possible.

Hands should be washed frequently, and utensils, towels, and pillows should not be shared.

Consult your doctor about alternate management techniques if you have any existing medical illnesses that enhance your chances of developing a cough, such as GERD or asthma. Once the illness is under control, your cough may go away or become considerably less common.