Cough and environment

What is responsible for your cough? You or your environment! The answer to this question is a little complex but not impossible. Cough and environment have a direct and strong correlation. Since cough stimulants as well as suppressors are omnipresent in the environment. To understand the factors responsible for cough it’s important to know the mechanism, reasons, and types of cough. 

Why cough?

Cough is a protective reflex action against foreign particles in our body. The purpose of a common cough is to expel respiratory secretion to counter the effect of allergens in the respiratory tract. In addition, it is an attempt to remove foreign particles from the lungs and upper airways.

It can be beneficial and harmful depending upon the situation and types of cough. For example, it is beneficial to drain out the airways and remove a large number of foreign particles through sputum formation and coughing up. But in the case of dry cough, it can be harmful. A wide variety of pathogens are responsible for a person to cough which facilitated to spread of the disease to new hosts. It also depends on the type of cough a person has. Acute cough (sudden onset or less than 3 weeks) is mostly useful than sub-acute cough (between 3 to 8 weeks) and chronic cough (more than three 8 weeks).

What causes a person to cough?

Cough can be due to environmental factors or medical conditions, or by consumption of certain medicines. Environmental factors such as microorganisms, pollens, fungal spores, and air pollutants have a positive correlation with a person to cough. Often irregular coughing is due to respiratory tract infection. However, it can be triggered by choking, smoking, air pollution, asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung tumors, rhinosinusitis, and heart failure. Therefore, it is important to know what is responsible for the cough to remediate the same.

Cough and environment
Omnipresence of a wide variety of natural cough stimulants and suppressors

The first step for a common cough is the stimulation of mechano or chemoreceptors in the throat, respiratory passage, and stretch receptors in the lungs by stimulants. This process generates afferent impulses which are sent to the cough center (medulla oblongata). Now, the cough center (part of the brain) generates specific efferent impulses which are sent to the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and lungs via parasympathetic and motor nerves. Depending upon the types of efferent impulses it increases the contraction of the diaphragm, abdominal, and intercostal muscles. This results in the closure of the vocal cords, followed by the build-up of intra-thoracic pressure, then a release of high-velocity expiratory air. Vigorous coughing can generate intra-thoracic pressures of up to 300 mmHg and expiratory air velocity of 800 km/h. The result of this is a noisy expiration which is termed a cough.

Mechanical events of cough

Mechanical events of cough include inspiratory, compression, and expiratory phase. In the inspiratory phase, it generates enough amount of air volume through inhalation necessary for an effective cough. Followed by a compression phase in which a rapid rise in intra-thoracic pressure by contraction of muscles of the chest wall, diaphragm, and abdominal. The final phase of cough is the expiratory phase in which a high expiratory airflow and a coughing sound from the glottis are generated.

Strategies to minimize the cough

The environment has a wide variety of effective cough suppressors such as ginger, jaggery, honey, peppermint, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, etc. Consumption of these natural suppressors can minimize excess coughing by competing with stimulants. Voltage-gated Na channel isoforms expressed in sensory neurons play a key role in the regulation of cough. Hence, the selective nocking of this channel may prove to be an effective strategy for the treatment of cough. At present, the most promising therapeutic targets for controlling cough are via modulation of purinergic signaling on vagal sensory neurons and central processing.

Common steps to control cough

  1. Reduce exposure to cough stimulants such as air pollutants, pollens, microorganisms, fungal spores, and irritating substances and conditions.
  2. Swallow cough suppressors such as ginger, jaggery, honey, peppermint, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, etc.
  3. Gargling with warm salt water can soothe your throat and facilitate the removal of mucus from your throat and upper airways.
  4. Cough control breathing exercises to create positive pressure in the oral cavity to prevent vocal folds from closing.
  5. Increase systemic and surface hydration by taking warm water from time to time to suppress the effect of cough stimulants.
  6. Cough is controllable in many cases by behavioral management of reflux.
  7. Consultation with medical doctors to understand the cause of cough is crucial in case of sub-acute and chronic cough. Since it may be due to medical conditions or due to certain medicines taken in the past.

10 Amazing facts about cough

  1. There are no tools or techniques available to measure and quantify the cough.
  2. Assessment of cough is subjective and highly variable.
  3. Cough is the most common medical complaint accounting for more than 30 million visits to doctors per year.
  4. The most common cause of acute cough is a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract.
  5. About 10% of total acute cough is due to bacterial infection.
  6. The cough is a part of the immune response to protect our body against foreign particles.
  7. About 40% of chronic cough is due to the retropulsion of acidic contents from the stomach into the pharynx and larynx (Gastroesophageal reflux).
  8. Vigorous coughing can generate intra-thoracic pressures of up to 300 mmHg and expiratory air velocity of 800 km/h.
  9. Commonly our body responds to cough stimulants within 1 to 2 seconds and generates a cough.
  10. Cough often removes a large number of foreign particles through sputum formation and coughing up.


Based on the foregoing discussion it is clear that cough is beneficial and harmful depending upon the conditions. Environmental factors play a vital role in controlling cough since its stimulants and suppressors both are omnipresent. Cough is controllable by understanding the cough stimulants and suppressers or by following the common steps to minimize it.

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