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Cough

Cough: Introduction

A cough is a defensive reflex of the body that functions to keep the airways clear of irritating or obstructing substances so that breathing and the intake of oxygen is effective. A cough is a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. A cough can result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, airway obstruction and other abnormal processes.

A cough can occur in any age group or population. A cough can indicate a mild condition, such as briefly inhaling campfire smoke. A cough can also be the result of a moderate condition, disorder or disease, such as influenza, upper respiratory infection or adenoid disorder. A cough can also accompany serious conditions that can even be life-threatening. These include pneumonia acute bronchitis, bronchiolitis, asthma, choking, and congestive heart failure.

Depending on the cause, a cough can be short-term and disappear quickly, such as when a cough occurs after briefly inhaling second-hand smoke. A cough can also occur in sudden, severe episodes, such as a cough that happens with whooping cough. A cough can also be chronic and ongoing over a long period of time, such as when a cough is due to smoking or lung cancer.

A cough can be the result of a wide variety of other conditions, including trauma to the throat, allergies, sinusitis, postnasal drip, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), measles and malignancy.

A cough often occurs in conjunction with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other common symptoms include fever or shortness of breath, chest pain, and flu-like symptoms. Complications of a cough can include fainting. The underlying disorder, disease or condition can also cause complications. For more details about symptoms and complications, see symptoms of a cough.

Diagnosing a cough and its root cause begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. This includes listening with a stethoscope to the sounds that the lungs make. Certain lung sounds point to some underlying causes of coughing. For example, wheezing may indicate asthma, and a bubbling sound may point to congestive heart failure or pneumonia.

Making a diagnosis also includes performing a variety of other tests to help to diagnose potential underlying diseases, conditions or disorders, such as bronchitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Depending on the suspected cause, tests can include blood tests, EKG, and imaging tests, such as X-ray, CT scan, nuclear scans, and MRI.

A diagnosis of a cough and its cause can easily be delayed or missed because a cough may be mild or intermittent and for other reasons. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of a cough.

Treatment of a cough involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition that is causing it. Some conditions can be easily and successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment and may not have an optimal prognosis. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of a cough....more »

Cough: Everyone is familiar with a cough that follows cold or flu, and indeed these are the most common causes. These and other viral infections are the most common cause of acute cough, particularly in children. Other possible causes of recurrent cough...more »

Causes of Cough

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