Coughing is an important way to keep your throat and airways clear. But too much coughing may mean you have a disease or disorder.

Some coughs are dry. Others are productive. A productive cough is one that brings up mucus. Mucus is also called phlegm or sputum.

Coughs can be either acute or chronic:

  • Acute coughs usually begin rapidly and are often due to a cold, flu, or sinus infection. They usually go away after 3 weeks.
  • Subacute coughs last 3 to 8 weeks.
  • Chronic coughs last longer than 8 weeks.

Coughing is a sudden expulsion of air from the lungs through the epiglottis, cartilage located in the throat, at an amazingly fast speed. Compared to a tennis ball hit at 50 miles per hour, or a baseball at 85 miles per hour...coughing is faster, with an estimated speed of 100 miles per hour. With such a strong force of air, coughing is the body's mechanism for clearing the breathing passageways of unwanted irritants. Let's take a look at the vocal cords prior to a cough. In order for a cough to occur, several events need to take place in sequence. Let's use the unwanted irritant of water entering the windpipe, also known the trachea, to trigger the coughing reflex. First, the vocal cords open widely allowing additional air to pass through into the lungs. Then the epiglottis closes off the windpipe, and simultaneously, the abdominal and rib muscles contract, increasing the pressure behind the epiglottis. With the increased pressure, the air is forcefully expelled, and creates a rushing sound as it moves very quickly past the vocal cords. The rushing air dislodges the irritant making it possible to breathe comfortably again.


The major features of the lungs include the bronchi, the bronchioles and the alveoli. The alveoli are the microscopic blood vessel-lined sacks in which oxygen and carbon dioxide gas are exchanged.


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