AskDefine | Define coughing

Dictionary Definition



1 the act of exhaling air suddenly with a noise [syn: cough]
2 sudden expulsion of air from the lungs that clears the air passages; a common symptom of upper respiratory infection or bronchitis or pneumonia or tuberculosis [syn: cough]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. present participle of cough


  1. A cough, the act of coughing.


Extensive Definition

A cough, also known as tussis is a sudden, often repetitive, spasmodic contraction of the thoracic cavity, resulting in violent release of air from the lungs, and usually accompanied by a distinctive sound.
Coughing is an action the body takes to get rid of substances that are irritating the breathing passages. A cough is usually initiated to clear a buildup of phlegm in the trachea. Coughing can also be triggered by a bolus of food entering the trachea rather than the esophagus due to a failure of the epiglottis. Frequent or chronic coughing usually indicates the presence of a disease. Provided the patient is a non-smoker and has a normal chest X-ray, the cause of chronic cough in 93% of all patients is due to asthma, heartburn or post-nasal drip. Other causes of chronic cough include chronic bronchitis and medications such as ACE inhibitors. Coughing can happen voluntarily as well as involuntarily.


A cough is a protective, primitive reflex in healthy individuals. The cough reflex is initiated by stimulation of two different classes of afferent nerves, namely the myelinated rapidly adapting receptors, and nonmyelinated C-fibers with endings in the lungs. However it is not certain that the stimulation of nonmyelinated C-fibers leads to cough with a reflex as it's meant in physiology (with its own five components): this stimulation may cause mast cells degranulation (through an asso-assonic reflex) and oedema which may work as a stimulus for rapidly adapting receptors.


"Persistent cough can be debilitating, socially distressing, and adversely impair quality of life." One of the more common presentations to a medical practitioner is a dry cough. The common causes of chronic dry coughing include post-nasal drip, gastroesophageal reflux disease, asthma, post viral cough and certain drugs such as beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and aspirin. One of the causes of chronic coughing might even be mouth breathing induced dryness in the throat. If a cough lasts for more than three weeks, multiple causes are likely and symptoms will abate only when all the causes are treated will the patient be symptom free. Individuals who smoke often have a smoker's cough, a loud, hacking cough which often results in the expiration of phlegm. In Third World countries, where endemic tuberculosis and HIV related lung disease predominate, structural damage of the airways often occurs with resulting chronic cough.
Coughing may also be used for psychological or social reasons, such as the coughing before giving a speech. This is known as psychogenic, habit or tic coughing, and may increase in frequency in social situations featuring conflict.
Given its irritant nature to mammal tissues, capsaicin is widely used to determine the cough threshold and as a tussive stimulant in clinical research of cough suppressants.


The complications of coughing can be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute complications include cough syncope (fainting spells due to decreased blood flow to the brain when coughs are prolonged and forceful), insomnia, cough-induced vomiting, rupture of blebs causing spontaneous pneumothorax (although this still remains to be proven), subconjunctival hemorrhage or "red eye", coughing defecation and in women with a prolapsed uterus, cough urination. Chronic complications are common and include abdominal or pelvic hernias, fatigue fractures of lower ribs and costochondritis.


Coughs can be treated with cough medicines. Dry coughs are treated with cough suppressants (antitussives) that suppress the body's urge to cough, while productive coughs (coughs that produce phlegm) are treated with expectorants that loosen mucus from the respiratory tract. Centrally acting cough suppressants, such as codeine and dextromethorphan reduce the urge to cough by inhibiting the response of the sensory endings by depolarization, or a dulling, of the vagus nerve, the nerve leading from the brain stem and serving the chest area. A recent study indicates that, because of the presence of theobromine in chocolate, 50 grams of dark chocolate may be an effective treatment for a persistent cough.

During injections

Coughing during an injection can lessen the pain of the needle stick caused by a sudden, temporary rise in pressure in the chest and spinal canal, inhibiting the pain-conducting structures of the spinal cord.

Psychological causes of Cough

Sometimes a cough can be found to have no apparent physical or medical cause. In these instances emotional and psychological problems are likely causes and the cough is often called a "psychogenic cough" (also known as a "habit cough" or "tic cough"). However, other illnesses have to be ruled out before a firm diagnosis of psychogenic cough is made. Psychogenic cough is thought to be more common in children than in adults. A possible scenario: psychogenic cough develops in a child who has a chronically ill brother or sister.

Social aspects of coughing

Coughing is not always involuntary, and can be used in social situations. Coughing can be used to attract attention, release internal psychological tension, or become a maladaptive displacement behavior. It is believed that the frequency of such coughing increases in environments vulnerable to psychological tension and social conflict. In such environments, coughing may become one of many displacement behaviors and/or defense mechanisms.
coughing in Arabic: سعال
coughing in Aymara: K'aja
coughing in Bosnian: Kašalj
coughing in Catalan: Tos
coughing in Czech: Kašel
coughing in German: Husten
coughing in Estonian: Köha
coughing in Spanish: Tos
coughing in Basque: Eztul
coughing in French: Toux
coughing in Ido: Tuso
coughing in Indonesian: Batuk
coughing in Italian: Tosse
coughing in Hebrew: שיעול
coughing in Latin: Tussis
coughing in Lithuanian: Kosulys
coughing in Malayalam: ചുമ
coughing in Malay (macrolanguage): Batuk
coughing in Dutch: Hoest
coughing in Japanese: 咳嗽
coughing in Norwegian: Hoste
coughing in Polish: Kaszel
coughing in Portuguese: Tosse
coughing in Quechua: Uhu
coughing in Russian: Кашель
coughing in Sicilian: Tussi
coughing in Simple English: Cough
coughing in Slovenian: Kašelj
coughing in Serbian: Кашаљ
coughing in Finnish: Yskä
coughing in Swedish: Hosta
coughing in Telugu: దగ్గు
coughing in Turkish: Öksürük
coughing in Chinese: 咳嗽
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