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Cough is a protective reflex to remove foreign material and germs in order to protect your airway from infections or irritant going down into your lungs causing serious illness such as pneumonia. This reflex produces mucus or phlegm.

Causes of cough

  • Viral illness such as common cold (flu), influenza
  • Infection of the upper airway (bronchitis, sinusitis) or lungs (pneumonia, tuberculosis)
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Smoking 
  • Chronic lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Exposure to dust, fumes and chemicals in the work place
  • Stomach acid going up into esophagus, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Secretions draining down the back of the throat (postnasal drip syndrome)
  • Stress
  • Medications called ACE inhibitors that are used to control high blood pressure.


  • Most cough is not dangerous. Productive coughs is often useful, and you should not try to eliminate them.
  • Home treatment can help you feel more comfortable. Drink a lot of fluids to prevent thick phlegm.
  • Dry, hacking coughs responds to honey in hot water, tea or lemon juice.
  • Try a cough drop to soothe the throat. Most cough drops have no effect on the cough reflex.
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid exposure to smoke, dust or pollutants. Wear face masks when necessary
  • Cough preparation may help your cough. Expectorants help thin the mucus and suppressants suppress the cough reflex and works best for dry cough.

When to see a doctor?

  • Coughing out blood
  • History of recent traveling outside your country
  • Prolonged cough lasting more than 2 weeks
  • Breathlessness, chest pain
  • Prolonged fever
  • Symptoms becoming more severe or frequent.
  • Pregnant
  • Blood spots under the skin (petechiae)
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Sore in the genital area and discharge


  • Practice good hygiene
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Coping well with stress
  • Avoid contact to person with cough and cold
  • Do not smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Get influenza vaccination when necessary
  • Get proper treatment if you are having asthma or lung disease (COPD)


It is true that expensive cough syrup is better than candy-flavored drops or hard candy?


It is much better to take simple precautions such as to drink plenty of water.

Does combination of many cough syrup preparation and medication for common cold help to make the symptoms better?


It is dangerous to take too many medications as most of the cough and cold medications prescribed can make you drowsy.

Should antibiotics be given to all patients with cough and cold?


Most are due to viral infection which usually go away by itself.

Last Reviewed : 26 April 2012
Writer : Dr. Jamilah Abdullah
Reviewer : Dr. Sri Wahyu Taher