Coughing is not a disease, however it may indicate respiratory problems. Although coughs have many different patterns, they may be categorised according to two characteristics - duration and productivity

  • Duration refers to how long a person coughs. A cough can come and go quickly, (such as when you have something stuck in your throat), it can last for several days (for example when you have a cold), or it can be persistent and chronic (for example chronic bronchitis).
  • A productive cough is one that produces mucus or phlegm, whilst a non-productive cough is a dry cough, sometimes referred to as "hacking".


A cough is a physical response to an obstruction of the windpipe or breathing passages, regardless of the cause of the obstruction.

The most common causes are colds, flu, and sinusitis, but coughing can also be triggered by the inhalation of dust, fumes, cigarette smoke, or small objects such as pieces of food.

If coughing persists over a long period of time, it can cause further irritation to the airways.

Many of the chronic respiratory diseases caused by smoking and industrial pollution (such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asbestosis) are characterised by deep coughing with thick mucus that is difficult to expel. Any persistent cough may be a symptom of an underlying illness - discuss your symptoms with your healthcare professional.

Life Style Factors

Drinking lots of liquids will help to loosen up the mucus and make coughing it up much easier. Warm liquids (such as herbal teas) or filtered water are best for this purpose.

Avoid dairy products, as they increase the body's tendency to form mucus.

Fresh fruit and vegetable juices may help speed recovery, as they are concentrated sources of nutrients.

The use of a mentholated chest rub will help to relieve cough and clear sinuses. A humidifier is also helpful for keeping the mucous membranes of the nose, throat and lungs moisturised.

Important Notes

Consult your healthcare professional if

  • Your cough lasts for more than 7 to 10 days
  • Your mucus is yellow, green, pink, or rust-coloured.
  • Your cough is severe and long-lasting, and accompanied by shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pains or tightness, a temperature, headache, back and leg aches, fatigue, rashes, or weight loss.
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