About Coughing

Coughing usually occurs in connection with a cold. Since those affected cough constantly, it can be a big problem, especially at night – namely when it affects sleep. But it can also have other causes.

What is cough irritation?

Also known in medical jargon as a dry cough, the term refers to a persistent, severe cough caused by irritation in the lower respiratory tract.

According to abbreviationfinder, coughing fits are often the result. It is characteristic that it is not accompanied by sputum. Therefore, it is a so-called unproductive cough. Pain can also occur in this context.

In general, coughing is considered the body’s protective reflex to clear the airways. It should be noted that it is not a disease in itself, but a side effect. Basically, a distinction should be made between acute and chronic forms.


The causes of coughing can be varied. One of the most common is that associated with a cold, especially in its early stages. In this way, pathogens get into the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract, which becomes inflamed as a result – the infection caused then triggers the stimulus.

Other respiratory diseases such as laryngitis, bronchitis, whooping cough or bronchial asthma are also accompanied by this symptom. Caution is advised if a high fever is added – then pneumonia may be suspected. In rare cases, a chronic urge to cough can indicate serious diseases such as lung cancer.

However, the cause of a cough is not always associated with respiratory diseases, it is often caused by allergic reactions. It can also be caused by taking certain medications such as ACE inhibitors. Last but not least, influences such as cigarette smoke, dehydration or a foreign body that has gotten into the trachea are common triggers.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Depending on its cause, a cough can cause various accompanying symptoms and complaints. If the urge to cough is due to the onset of a cold, typical symptoms such as headaches and body aches, runny nose, hoarseness and sore throat occur. There is often a slight fever and a feeling of illness. If irritation of the respiratory tract is the cause, for example from dust or smoke, the coughing will be accompanied by watery eyes and a scratchy throat.

Occasionally, shortness of breath sets in, which usually subsides after a few seconds. If gases are the cause, the urge to cough is usually accompanied by severe headaches, fatigue and impaired consciousness. It can also cause pain in the throat and often swelling in the nose, mouth and throat. A cough that occurs as part of the flu usually develops gradually.

At the beginning, the affected person initially feels a slight irritation and typical side effects such as a runny nose and headache. These symptoms increase in intensity as the disease progresses and result in a strong feeling of illness. The urge to cough itself can lead to difficulty swallowing and speaking. Chronic complaints cause irritation of the airways and thus lead to hoarseness and ultimately to loss of voice.

Diagnosis & History

The development of the symptom of coughing varies depending on the disease. Acute forms such as colds last less than three weeks, while chronic ones last longer, sometimes lifelong. Examples of this are bronchial asthma and chronic obstructive bronchitis.

With a cold, the dry cough usually develops into a mucous cough after a few days in order to transport the pathogens out of the respiratory tract. In the case of colds and inflammation of the larynx, it subsides after a few days, while it can last a little longer than two weeks in the case of bronchitis.

In the case of whooping cough, the coughing attacks subside after around three to four months. Depending on the cause, respiratory diseases are also accompanied by symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, headache and body aches as well as exhaustion. In order to rule out serious reasons, a doctor should be consulted, especially if there is also a fever or shortness of breath, or if the symptoms do not improve within a week.


A cough is not an independent clinical picture, but a defense reflex of the human body. This reflex is intended to push foreign bodies or mucus out of the throat area. Of course, various complications can also occur in connection with a cough, which may even have to be treated by a doctor. In most cases, a repetitive urge to cough occurs due to bacterial or viral infection.

Mucus builds up in the throat area and the urge to cough occurs again and again. Anyone who leaves this clinical picture without any treatment exposes themselves to a great risk. There is a high probability that the urge to cough will become much worse, so that the airways will continue to clog with mucus. Often there are also typical cold symptoms, such as an increased temperature, dizziness, sweating, nausea or vomiting.

These complications should be treated by a doctor with appropriate medication, otherwise a significant deterioration is to be expected. Under certain circumstances, this can even develop into pneumonia, which of course should be treated by a doctor. For this reason, the following applies: A cough is of course associated with many different complications. If these complications remain without medical or drug treatment, a significant deterioration in the condition can be expected.

When should you go to the doctor?

Coughing is a natural response of the body. An acute urge to cough that quickly subsides is usually harmless and does not require further clarification by the doctor. However, if the urge to cough occurs again and again, a doctor must be consulted. In principle, the symptoms must be examined if they last longer than four to six weeks and increase in intensity and duration over the course of time. Accompanying symptoms also require an examination by the family doctor or an ENT doctor. If, for example, sputum is added, often accompanied by wheezing or barking noises when coughing, this must be clarified.

People suffering from chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should see a doctor if they cough. The same applies if a cough occurs in connection with cardiac insufficiency, lung cancer or the intake of certain medications (e.g. ACE inhibitors). If acute coughing occurs after contact with potentially toxic substances or contact with foreign bodies, the hospital must be visited on the same day. Children who suffer from whooping cough are best taken to the pediatrician.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of coughing varies depending on the disease, a targeted prescription and administration of appropriate medication also combats the coughing in acute forms.

If the symptom occurs in connection with a cold, then antitussives, antitussives, may be prescribed. These include, for example, the active ingredients codeine or noscapine. Antibiotics should only be prescribed for bacterial causes. There are also many drops, juices, dragees and lozenges that do not require a prescription and can therefore be purchased over the counter in pharmacies and drugstores.

Cold ointments with camphor or eucalyptus oil can also relieve the symptoms. Alternatively, home remedies such as onion juice, quark or potato wraps can also help.

In general, you should drink enough, for example sage or chamomile tea. Sage is generally anti-inflammatory, so sucking on sage candy can also have a positive effect on recovery. Cold baths that contain essential oils can also help improve coughing and other cold symptoms.

Basically, you should take it easy and, if necessary, go to bed rest. In the case of chronic forms, the quality of life of the patient can be increased with appropriate medication, but the disease itself persists. If a dry cough is caused by medication, you should always consult your doctor so that an alternative can be prescribed.

Outlook & Forecast

Coughing can be caused by many factors. The prognosis depends on the trigger of the cough stimulus.

If the urge to cough is triggered by dry room air, overheated rooms or accumulation of dust, the prognosis is good. This also applies to inhaled flour dust or animal hair. The triggering sources must be eliminated. The urge to cough can also indicate an upcoming cold, sore throat, lung problems or a smoker’s cough. Other triggers of dry cough can be allergic asthma, pleurisy or COPD.

Depending on the situation, other accompanying symptoms may be present. The first thing to do is to determine why the urge to cough exists. Only then can the prognosis be determined. Normally, a permanent freedom from symptoms can be achieved within a few weeks if it is a cold-related dry cough. It is even faster if the source of the dry cough can be identified and eliminated quickly.

Dry cough in smokers can be persistent as long as nicotine-containing smoke is inhaled. In the case of an allergic cough, the allergens must be eliminated. If the urge to cough is caused by inhaled foreign bodies in the throat, pharynx or trachea, the prognosis after their removal is positive. Even small injuries to the mucous membrane in the mouth and throat heal quickly. It becomes more difficult if the urge to cough has psychological causes. In the case of nervous coughing, there is often no real stimulus, only a felt one.


The urge to cough can be prevented if it occurs as a result of an inflammation of the airways. Plenty of fluids should be consumed every day, for example tea, mineral water or juice spritzers. The immune system can also be strengthened with a balanced, vitamin-rich diet in combination with regular physical activity.

Contrast showers and visits to the sauna can also have a positive effect on this. Another way to prevent a dry cough that is not related to respiratory irritation is to avoid both active and passive smoking


In order to achieve permanent relief from the urge to cough or even its complete disappearance, the trigger must be eliminated. If the irritation occurs with dry room and heating air, humidifiers ensure a better and less irritating room climate. Especially when it comes to an allergic dry cough, eliminating the cause has top priority.

If reactions are triggered to dust in general, frequent dusting with a damp cloth will help. If the coughing stimulus occurs due to animal hair, however, further steps must be considered. Small animals can usually be moved to a separate room or an outdoor enclosure in the garden and contact with the affected person can be greatly reduced. This is difficult with cats or dogs, especially since they lose their hair throughout the apartment. The only thing that might help here is to give up the animal.

A dry cough caused by a cold will subside after a few weeks and can be relieved with a spoonful of honey if necessary. The situation is more difficult for smokers. The dry cough lasts as long as nicotine-containing smoke is inhaled. Giving up smoking temporarily or, even better, permanently offers the best chances. If the trigger cannot be found, it may be based on a psychological cause that psychotherapy can alleviate.

You can do that yourself

Coughing is not immediately a reason to go to the doctor, because even healthy people occasionally have to “cough freely”. Coughing freely has a natural protective function to rid the body of harmful bacteria and germs. However, if the urge to cough develops into a cough, there are measures you can take to help yourself.

Inhalation frees the bronchial tubes from the irritating mucus. The effect when inhaling can also be increased with chamomile or essential oils from eucalyptus, mountain pine or spruce needles. Chamomile works against inflammation of the bronchi, while the essential oils, like inhaling, help clear the bronchi of mucus. In general, when you cough, you should drink a lot so that the mucous membranes are moistened and the mucus can be loosened. The classic cough tea from the pharmacy or home remedies such as onion juice with rock candy can help. Chamomile tea has a calming effect on the bronchi, fennel tea loosens mucus andSage tea covers the mucous membrane with a moist layer so that the urge to cough can be absorbed.

However, if the cough does not go away after a few weeks, you should see your family doctor or ENT doctor to clarify the cause. The doctor can then clarify the cause and order appropriate therapies. Otherwise, the cough threatens to become chronic once it has established itself in the bronchi.