Why does the Cough occur?

Coughing is a defense mechanism of the body to get rid of foreign particles that enter the respiratory system. In some cases, it is due to more complex problems, such as infections and other pathologies.

Have you ever wondered why a cough occurs? This symptom is present in all mammals and, of course, in humans. We have all coughed at times. In fact, 23% of people are known to have coughing episodes when they wake up in the morning, with or without sputum, even if they are non-smokers.

Likewise, it is known that adults have between two and three colds per year and that in 75% of cases they include coughs among their manifestations. It is estimated that 13% of people have a chronic cough, which means that they cough regularly, even if they do not have a cold.

Coughing is a reflex action that is sometimes due to an illness, but most of the time it is not. In principle, it is simply a mechanism to expel irritants from the respiratory tract. Only on some occasions is it due to a pathology.

Table of Contents

What is cough?

The first thing to clarify is that coughing is a defense mechanism of the body, against external agents that can be harmful. We cough to clear the airways, expelling foreign particles or bodies out.

The act of coughing is defined as a sudden and explosive maneuver. This maneuver is carried out in three stages. In the first, the glottis is opened by inspiration; in the second, there is a contraction of the respiratory muscles; and in the third, the air retained in the lungs is expelled, with a sudden opening of the glottis.

The cough receptors are located mainly in the lower airway. This includes the larynx, trachea and bronchi. They are also located in the nose, paranasal sinuses, ear canal, pleura, diaphragm, and even the pericardium and stomach.

Types of cough

There are several types of cough and only some of them should be a reason for medical consultation. In principle, this is classified as productive or unproductive. It is called productive when phlegm  or mucus is expelled; their appearance is an important clinical data.

In the unproductive there is no that mucus and it is what is known as a dry cough. This causes itching, irritation and, often, a sore throat. There is a third modality known as “false dry.” In this, there is mucus, but it cannot be expelled completely.

Based on the duration, the cough is classified as acute or chronic. It is considered acute when its duration does not exceed three weeks. It is called chronic when it extends beyond 3 or 4 weeks. The latter is usually accompanied by irritation in the trachea or larynx.

Finally, there are whooping cough and psychogenic cough. The first is violent, very contagious and quite dangerous in babies under 6 months. The second is a form of psychosomatic cough, which usually appears when a person is very nervous.

Why does the cough occur?

Coughing is a common symptom that can have many causes. Most of the time it is not a serious problem and goes away on its own. However, if it is severe or is accompanied by other symptoms, it is best to see a doctor for a diagnosis. Here are the main reasons why coughing occurs.

By environmental stimuli

An environment with a lot of smoke or dust, usually causes specific episodes. Mites also generate them. If it’s persistent, it may be an allergy, either permanent or seasonal. Sudden temperature changes also cause a cough.

By inflammatory processes

When the airways become inflamed, they make it difficult for air to pass through and can lead to coughing and pain. This happens when there are common illnesses like the cold or the fluAlso, in diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia, fibrosis, asthma, lung cancer, etc.

Other diseases

Nose, throat, ear, and ear canal conditions can cause coughing. Gastroesophageal reflux too. A cough that is significantly worse when you lie down can be a sign of congestive heart failure.


Some medicines, such as angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, often used to treat hypertension, have a cough as one of their side effects.


It is common for those who use tobacco, or other similar drugs, to have a chronic cough. However, even if it is habitual, it does not mean that it is normal. If the problem is recurrent, it is best to maintain regular medical monitoring.

Finally, it should be mentioned that coughing can be caused by psychogenic factors such as anxiety and nervousness. In any case, as we have already mentioned, any sign of a complication should be attended to by the doctor. Keep that in mind!

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