Read below about cough, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your cough from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having cough

Cough Quiz

Cough Symptoms

You're probably among most of the population who consider a cough a nuisance and nothing more. However, our cough mechanism is an ancient, inherited safety measure, protecting us from inhaling foreign material deep into your lungs, including mucus, smoke, irritants, or toxic vapors.

Coughs can range from voluntary, such as someone clearing their throat or helping a doctor gauge the health of their lungs and respiratory system, or involuntary and more serious, such as coughs that result from chronic smoking, COPD, a cold or flu, allergies, or bronchitis.

In fact, there are a million reasons someone might cough, but persistent cough symptoms can be a sign of a serious illness or disorder of the respiratory system, so let's take a closer look.

Common symptoms associated with cough are:

Cough Causes Overview

Coughs are due to irritation, inflammation, and other insults to the lining of the airways and the throat. There are a variety of ailments that can cause coughing, from the common cold to lung cancer. Furthermore, a chronic cough can be due to conditions ranging from asthma, to post-nasal drip, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

In short, there are infectious, inflammatory/allergy-related coughs, and coughs caused by a range of other varying factors.

Infectious cough causes:

  • Viral infections: Probably the most common cause of a cough is the common cold, but many other infections of the upper airways can lead to a cough. These include bronchitis, sinusitis, and laryngitis. There are also many types of viral pneumonia that cause a cough. The patient typically needs antibiotics to recover.
  • Bacterial infections: Bronchitis and pneumonia (which is bronchitis gone rogue in the lungs), sinusitis, and laryngitis are also bacterial infections that can lead to cough. These cannot be resolved without a doctor's care and medication.
  • Influenza: Also a viral infection, the flu can lead to a horrendous cough in some cases.
  • Tuberculosis: Fortunately, this infection is relatively rare in America, but this is a common infection worldwide and was a common cause of death in earlier centuries.
  • Taking blood pressure medications: Some blood pressure medications, especially Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, can cause a chronic cough.

Inflammatory and allergic causes of coughs:

  • Sarcoidosis: this condition is caused by clusters of inflammatory cells that collect in different areas of the body.

  • Allergies: Allergies are a very common cause of cough, causing great irritation and inflammation of the airways, and is a reaction to allergens entering the airways.

  • Asthma: Asthma typically causes wheezing accompanied by coughs.

  • GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause cough as acidic fluids enter the esophagus.

  • Post-nasal drip: Coughing can result from the sinuses dripping into the throat and esophagus from the body's effort to clear airways.

Other cough causes:

  • Foreign bodies: Choking on food or other foreign objects can lead to a violent acute cough.
  • Lung cancer: This is a common cause of a persistent cough in smokers, and the patient may cough up blood with lung cancer.
  • Cystic Fibrosis: This genetic disorder of children and young adults leads to recurrent bouts of pneumonia and can cause persistent coughing.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): This lung disease is caused by increasing breathlessness and typically causes a persistent, dry cough.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Cough

Updated on Aug. 29, 2018

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced cough. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    Symptoms resolve within 1-2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (Copd)

    COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a chronic condition of the lungs and the airways in the lungs. Damage has occured due to long-term exposure to substances that irritate and damage the lungs, such as cigarette smoke or air pollution. This damage can cause symptoms like shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance and cough. A common cold or other types of infection can cause symptoms to worden acutely, this is called an exacerbation.

    Often a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough and dyspnea related to smoking, cough, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd):
    cough and dyspnea related to smoking
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd):
    rectal bleeding
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Bacterial Pneumonia

    Bacterial pneumonia is the infection of the lungs with bacteria (as opposed to a fungus or a virus).

    1-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath
    Symptoms that always occur with bacterial pneumonia:
    cough
    Urgency:
    In-person visit

    Cough Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having cough.

    Cough Quiz
  5. 5.Viral Pneumonia

    Viral pneumonia is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lungs due to infection with a virus. Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type, which is usually acquired in public areas such as at work, school, or grocery store.

    Symptoms begin to improve within a few days.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Chronic Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness.

    Likely a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, productive cough, wheezing, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Post - Infectious Cough

    Post-infectious upper airway cough is a condition that can develop as a direct result of a previous infection of the airways. In adults, this is the most common cause of chronic (persistent) cough.

    2 weeks with treatment.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, congestion, clear runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with post-infectious cough:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with post-infectious cough:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  8. 8.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    Most recover within 1 week but cough and malaise can persist for 2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  9. 9.Viral Throat Infection

    Viral pharyngitis is an inflammation of the pharynx, the part of the throat between the nasal cavity and mouth, which causes throat pain.

    Symptoms generally resolve within 3-4 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, cough, congestion, fever, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with viral throat infection:
    sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with viral throat infection:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Cough Treatments and Relief

Any cough that last more than a week or two, especially if you have blood in any mucus being expelled with the cough, should be evaluated by a doctor. A chronic cough can often be managed by your doctor, and you may be given antibiotics to clear the bacterial or viral.

There are all kinds of good home remedies and home treatments for cough symptoms.

  • Elevate the head and neck to help prop open airways
  • Steam inhalation over a steam bath: steam helps open the airways and can bring relief.
  • Humidifiers: humidifiers prevent drying of the airways and can help soothe a cough.
  • Hydrate: fluids help moisturize the airways and can soothe a cough.
  • Try hot tea with lemon or honey
  • Cough syrups and drops: can be purchased over-the-counter and bring many people great relief.
  • Avoid exposure to allergens and irritants : close windows when there is high content of allergens in your area/environment.
  • Antibiotics: In the event you have a viral or bacterial infection, which your doctor can diagnose, a short course of antibiotics or other medications is often needed.

If someone is choking you need to act fast:

  • Call 911 first and immediately.
  • Then, perform Heimlich maneuver by pressing the thumb firmly into the area under the ribs and up, hard.
  • If necessary, perform CPR — keep the victim alive until the medics get there.

FAQs About Cough

Here are some frequently asked questions about cough.

What causes persistent cough?

Cough can be classified by duration — acute is less than three weeks, subacute is three–eight weeks, and chronic is more than eight weeks. A persistent cough, subacute and chronic, may be due to post-nasal drip, acid reflux (also known as GERD), asthma, or, less commonly, a side effect of certain drugs (ACE inhibitors), infections, aspirated foreign body, tumor, or a variety of lung disorders.

Why do we cough?

Coughing is voluntary and involuntary. Involuntary coughing is a protective reflex intended to clear the large airways and is initiated by irritants to receptors in the respiratory tract and occasionally other surrounding organs. The irritants can be allergies, mechanical, infectious, chemical (such as acid reflux), or even changes in temperature such as cold air.

Is excessive coughing dangerous?

Excessive coughing may cause throat irritation, vomiting, pain in the chest or rib muscles from strain, and, less frequently, can cause exhaustion, dizziness, incontinence, and rib fractures especially women with decreased bone density (osteoporosis). If the excessive coughing is associated with coughing of blood, immediate medical attention is needed.

What causes a chronic cough?

This is the same as the first question.

What is a dry cough a symptom of?

A dry cough is also called a nonproductive cough with little or no mucus or phlegm. Causes of dry cough include viral infections, allergies, irritants such as tobacco smoke, other air pollutants, and acid reflux (GERD). Chronic dry cough may be due to asthma and other lung disorders.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Cough

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Does your cough produce phlegm?
  • Q.Do you have a sore throat?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our cough symptom checker to find out more.

Cough Quiz

Cough Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced cough have also experienced:

    • 7% Congestion
    • 7% Sore Throat
    • 5% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced cough had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Less Than a Week
    • 23% Two Weeks to a Month
    • 18% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced cough were most often matched with:

    • 60% Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (Copd)
    • 20% Bronchitis
    • 20% Common Cold
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having cough

Cough Quiz