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A cough results as the spasmodic and sudden contraction of the diaphragm and respiratory muscles which results in the forceful expulsion of air from the lungs. Coughing is a reflex reaction to an irritation of the lining of the lungs by an invading organism or an irritating substance. This may occur when food is swallowed incorrectly and enters the airways. In this case coughing is an attempt by the body to force the food out of the airways. In the case of an infection, the body attempts to get rid of whatever organism (e.g. bacteria or virus) is causing the infection. Usually the lining of the airways increase the amount of mucous production in order to trap the organism. Coughing then occurs in an attempt to get rid of the mucous and the organism. In this case the cough has a rattling sound as a result of the movement of the mucous. Throat irritations may cause a chronic and persistent cough. Irritations include acid reflux, a post nasal drip or certain medications. Although a cough is a reflex reaction and therefore happens involuntarily, however, it may be also voluntarily.

Lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cause chronic coughs. Smokers commonly experience persistent coughs as a result of continuous irritation of the lungs by the inhaled smoke. A smoker’s cough is usually worse in the mornings and is often accompanied by coughing up of phlegm. Coughing for longer periods of time may cause pain in the chest and throat and a severe coughing attack may affect one’s breathing as one is not able to take sufficient breaths of air in between the coughs. People who experience a severe coughing attack may become panicky and tearful as a result of a lack of ability to breathe properly and this can be a very distressing experience. Coughing is often made worse by lying down as it is more difficult to expel the irritant in this position. As a result coughing may affect a person’s sleep leaving them feeling tired and irritable.

The term barking coughs describe loud coughs which do not produce and mucous or phlegm. They are usually quite painful and may be very distressing. Coughing may also cause urine or faecal matter to escape unintentionally in people who have a weak bladder or diarrhoea. This can be a very embarrassing and upsetting situation. If you experience a cough that persists for longer than four days then please consult your healthcare practitioner.



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