University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
George Bedell, MD
Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine
First Published: 2000
Last Revised: September 2004
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Celebrate the cough.
What, you may ask, is so great about hacking?
Yes it is hard to believe, but the cough is one of the protective mechanisms of your body.
"The purpose of the cough is to clear secretions or foreign material from the lining of the airways in the lung," says Dr. George Bedell, a lung specialist in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Bedell is a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine.
The cough is a reflex action--when there is an irritant present in the lungs the body responds by coughing.
For example, if a person breathes in dust from a gravel road, the dust sets
up an irritation and a cough is the body's response, says Bedell. If you have
a "common cold," the cough is triggered by a virus infection irritating the lung.
There is no treatment for a cough associated with the "common cold".
"Most people have their own home remedies, such as taking aspirin, drinking lots of orange juice, or even taking a shot of whiskey and scooting off to bed," the UI physician notes.
But the cough also can be a sign of something more serious.
Bedell suggests that you see your physician if your cough produces a lot of mucus or blood, or if the cough lingers after the cold has ended.
The presence of mucus may signal an infection. A persistent cough can indicate a more serious disorder such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, tuberculosis, or lung cancer, Bedell says.
But don't worry needlessly if you are a "hacker" because not all persistent coughs indicate the presence of disease.
Some people will cough even though there is no disease present to bring it on. "Their cough mechanism is more active than it should be. There simply is something triggering the cough that we don't completely understand," Bedell notes.
He suggests that if you are a persistent cougher, you should see a physician and have the cough checked, just to be sure there is nothing more serious behind it.