Why do we cough?

Written by Sai Pragna Chagarla, Staff Writer – Hola Health
Reviewed by Dr. Vishnu Gopalan, Chief Medical Officer - Hola Health

An occasional cough that comes through as a reflex is a protective mechanism, built by the human body to expel dust, germs or built-up mucus from the throat or airway. A cough isn’t usually dangerous unless it lasts for over three weeks or there are other more prominent symptoms such as a breathing difficulty, chest pain or coughing up blood.

Different Reasons For Coughing

There are many different kinds of coughs and understanding them better will allow you to treat the cough most effectively.

1. Dry coughs

Also known as non-productive cough, is where there is no mucus or phlegm produced. Patients usually complain of a tickly and irritated throat in this case. There could be many reasons for this type of cough ranging from asthma, allergies, viral illness, acid reflux and a COVID-19 infection.

2. Chesty coughs

Also known as productive or wet cough is where there is mucus or phlegm produced to clear the airways. Congestion, heavy feeling in the chest, coughing up mucus, and wheezing are some of the symptoms of a chesty cough. This can be caused by a virus such as the common cold or flu. Serious causes that can be attributed to this kind of cough are chronic bronchitis.

3. Persistent coughs

Persistent or chronic coughs that last more than three weeks could point to an underlying disease or a serious infection.

4. Croup cough

Croup coughs are caused by a virus similar to a common cold and is usually seen in children under the age of 5. This usually includes a stuffy nose and fever along with a blocked larynx and trachea.

5. Whooping cough

Whooping cough is a serious respiratory tract infection where the cough will occur in long spells and ends with a whooping sound. There is a vaccination program in place to control the number of people falling prey to this infection.

Caring For Coughs

Diagnosing the kind of cough and its seriousness will help in the care and treatment of a person affected by it. Most coughs get resolved on their own but one should seek out a doctor if the cough lasts more than three weeks or is accompanied by more serious symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and fever. In this case, the doctor may want to treat the underlying triggers with medication.

There are many home remedies to relieve the suffering of a person affected by short-term or acute cough. 

  • Stay Hydrated: It is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Consuming warm fluids such as soup, tea or just plain water would loosen the mucus, thus helping ease the congestion as well as coughing.
  • Stay far away from smoking or smokers as the chemicals in the smoke will cause further inflammation of the airway
  • Inhale steam or take a warm bath
  • Have some honey; this has a soothing effect on the dry and irritated throat
  • Good coughing etiquette such as coughing into the elbow and washing the hands frequently will reduce further spread of the disease.

If the cough persists for more than three weeks and disturbs the regular schedule of an individual, it is best to consult a doctor. The doctor will further investigate and suggest the best course of action.

See a GP within 15 minutes anytime, day or night


1. Cough- Health Direct Australia: Reference Link

2. Managing a persistent cough – Lung Foundation Australia: Reference Link

3. Cough – The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne: Reference Link

4. Coughs, cold and sore throats – Choosing Wisely Australia: Reference Link


This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.

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