Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Cough Overview

What is a cough?
A cough is a sudden blast of air from the lungs. Coughing is a reflex that clears the air passages, in order to keep them open. The cough reflex is an important defense mechanism: coughing expels bacteria, mucus and foreign substances that can cause pneumonia. Any process that irritates the windpipe or air passageways in the lungs can cause a cough. Common causes include chronic bronchitis, COPD, asthma, and upper respiratory infections.

What are the symptoms of a cough?
A cough may be dry or produce mucus. The mucus may be think and white or thick and colored brown or yellow. In some cases, a cough may produce blood-streaked mucus. Commonly associated symptoms are fever, chest wall pain, wheezing, sinus congestion, and breathing difficulty.

How does the doctor treat a cough?
Treatment for cough depends on underlying cause. Treatment for a cough may include avoidance of smoking, inhaled bronchodilators, cough suppressants, antihistamines, corticosteroids, and antibiotics.

Continue to Cough Evaluation

Last Updated: Aug 25, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Cough References
  1. Chang AB, Asher MI. A review of cough in children. J Asthma. 2001 Jun;38(4):299-309. [11456383]
  2. Irwin RS, Curley FJ. The treatment of cough. A comprehensive review. Chest. 1991 Jun;99(6):1477-84. [2036833]
  3. Schroeder K, Fahey T. Should we advise parents to administer over the counter cough medicines for acute cough? Systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Arch Dis Child. 2002 Mar;86(3):170-5. [11861232]
  4. Schroeder K, Fahey T. Systematic review of randomised controlled trials of over the counter cough medicines for acute cough in adults. BMJ. 2002 Feb 9;324(7333):329-31. [11834560]
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