Healthy Living

What Causes a Cough?

What Causes a Cough?


Although a cough is a very common condition, it is not considered a disease. It is usually the symptom of an underlying condition or is a reflex action to remove irritants and mucus from the respiratory tract. In most cases, a cough clears within a week or so. Although a cough may not be very serious, in many cases, persistent coughing may lead to a lack of sleep, headaches, and urinary incontinence.

Coughs that produce phlegm or mucus is known as a productive cough and they are caused by:

  • Common cold – This is one of the most common causes for a productive cough. The cough begins when mucus drains from the back of the throat.
  • Infections of upper respiratory tract – Infections of the lungs and bronchus, like bronchitis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, may result in a cough.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseCOPD results in a productive cough, particularly when the event worsens.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease – As the stomach acid gets back into the esophagus due to other medical conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease, it may result in a cough.
  • Smoking – Habits that lead to lung damage or irritation often leads to a cough.

Dry cough that does not produce any phlegm is referred to as non-productive coughs, and some of the common causes include:

  • Viral infectionDry cough is normally followed by a common cold, and may persist for a long period of time.
  • Spasms of bronchial tubes – Irritation of the bronchial tubes may lead to a non-productive cough that typically overnight.
  • Allergy – Another common cause for cough without sputum.
  • Certain medications – Drugs like ACE inhibitors, which are commonly used for regulating blood pressure, may cause a cough.
  • Asthma – A cough is one of the most common symptoms of asthma.

Treating underlying conditions is the best solution to manage a cough. Antibiotics are not preferred if the cough is caused by viral infections. Evaluating one's physical health, along with other symptoms, will help to identify what conditions have caused a cough.

Individuals who have phlegm that is greenish in color and a temperature above 100oF should consult with their doctor.