A cough ( pronunciation (help·info) Latin: tussis) is a sudden and often repetitively occurring reflex which helps to clear the large breathing passages from secretions, irritants, foreign particles and microbes. The cough reflex consists of three phases: an inhalation, a forced exhalation against a closed glottis, and a violent release of air from the lungs following opening of the glottis, usually accompanied by a distinctive sound. Coughing can happen voluntarily as well as involuntarily.
Frequent coughing usually indicates the presence of a disease. Many viruses and bacteria benefit evolutionarily by causing the host to cough, which helps to spread the disease to new hosts. Most of the time, coughing is caused by a respiratory tract infection but can be triggered by choking, smoking, air pollution, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, post-nasal drip, chronic bronchitis, lung tumors, heart failure and medications such as ACE inhibitors.
Treatment should target the cause; for example, smoking cessation or discontinuing ACE inhibitors. Some people may be worried about serious illnesses, and reassurance may suffice. Cough suppressants such as codeine or dextromethorphan are