A cough is the body’s way of clearing irritants or excess mucus from the throat and airways. It is a natural reflex that everyone has from time to time. But if you or your child is coughing more than occasionally, it’s a good idea to call your healthcare provider for advice. A cough can be a sign of an illness or a side effect from medication.

A common cause of a cough is a cold or the flu. Getting the right vaccines, practicing proper hand hygiene and physically distancing yourself from sick people can help prevent a cold or flu. If you are exposed to someone who is sick, wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth when coughing.

Another common cause of a cough is pneumonia. Symptoms include fever, cough, and trouble breathing. A severe or chronic pneumonia can lead to emphysema or pulmonary embolism, which are both life-threatening conditions.

Other causes of a cough include bronchitis, which is long-term inflammation of the lungs, usually from smoking or exposure to environmental irritants. The lungs can also become infected with bacteria, fungus, or parasites. Some lungs diseases that cause long-term inflammation of the lungs and bronchitis, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema, also can cause a cough.

Infections of the sinuses, such as a bacterial or viral sinus infection, may also cause a cough. These infections are typically treated with medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants, or with antibiotics. Sinus problems can also be caused by certain medical conditions, such as asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), cystic fibrosis, or immune and autoimmune disorders. Certain medications, such as birth control pills and drugs for high blood pressure or depression, can increase the risk of sinus problems.

A cough that is not related to a cold, the flu or a sinus infection should not be considered a serious health concern. However, if a cough is associated with other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, wheezing or shortness of breath (dyspnea), fever, fatigue or nasal congestion, it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider at Phenix Health.