Coughing is a reflex action or automatic response to an irritant in the airway or lungs. The medical name for a cough is 'tussis' which is a Latin word.

There are two main types of cough: a chesty cough, sometimes called a 'productive' or 'loose' cough and a dry cough, sometimes called a 'non-productive' or 'tickly' cough. A chesty cough is usually deep, guttural and produces phlegm. A dry cough is usually high-pitched and can be accompanied by a tickle at the back of the throat. This type of cough does not produce phlegm. Coughs are usually harmless and generally disappear after a week without treatment.


Coughs are usually caused by irritation, infection or allergy.The airway can be irritated by inhaling dust, smoke, gases and fumes or by a foreign body such as food 'going down the wrong way'. A dry atmosphere or hot or cold air can also irritate the airway.Coughing can be a symptom of many respiratory tract infections including the common cold, laryngitis, croup, bronchitis and pneumonia. Phlegm or mucus produced as a result of an infection can irritate the airway and lungs causing a cough.A cough can also develop when the body produces an allergic reaction to a foreign substance known as an 'allergen'. Allergens known to cause allergy include pollen, house dust mites and their excrement, moulds, animal fur, animal skin flakes (dander), feathers, chemicals and cigarette smoke. A cough can also be a symptom of asthma, especially in children.Excessive smoking can cause a persistent cough commonly known as a 'smokers cough'. Coughs can occur as a side effect of some medicines.Sometimes, digestive juices escape from the stomach causing irritation of the airway. This can lead to an irritating cough.If the airway becomes compressed or obstructed in any way, a cough can develop.Avoiding Coughs

  • do not smoke and avoid smoky atmospheresdry atmospheres can cause a cough so try increasing the humidity inside your home by using a humidifier or by placing a bowl of water or wet towel on a radiator
  • always wear a protective mask in dusty atmospheres especially when you are doing DIY


Coughs usually disappear after a week without treatment but there are many treatments available which will help to ease a cough. Different types of coughs should be treated in different ways

  • a dry, tickly cough needs a suppressant cough medicine sometimes called an 'antitussive'. They work by suppressing the urge to cough. They should not be used to treat a chesty coughsucking pastilles or lozenges can ease a dry cough. · Expectorant cough mixtures are used to treat chesty coughs. They help the body to get rid of phlegm by breaking it down and making it easier to expeldemulcent cough medicines can help to soothe a cough. They usually contain syrup or glycerol. Simple linctus is an example of a demulcent cough mixture. · If a runny nose is causing a cough, a decongestant can be used to relieve nasal congestionsteam inhalations can help both chesty and dry coughs. They can help to break up phlegm in the case of a chesty cough but they can also soothe a dry cough. Menthol or eucalyptus can be added to the water to make the steam easier to inhale. Hot water should be used, not boiling. An alternative to a steam inhalation is having a hot bath or shower
  • warm soothing drinks such as hot water mixed with honey and lemon can also help to soothe a cough

When To See A Doctor

If your cough does not improve after seven days, you should go and see your doctor. If you experience chest pains, breathing difficulties, if you are losing weight or if you are coughing up blood, tell your doctor at once.