Why do we cough

Coughing is basically the body’s reflex action to clear foreign substances such as dust from your lungs and windpipe. The reflex action works when the body detects that the airway has a foreign substance that should not be present in typical air and is causing internal irritation.

To explain this in detail a cough begins when you inhale, closing the glottis located at the top of the windpipe at the rear of the throat for a short while. Then air is pushed against the closed glottis aided by the power of the lung muscles which adds to the pressure build up, and, finally, the glottis is opened. When this happens the air, which has been subject to high pressure build up, is forcefully expelled – causing the obstruction or irritant to be ejected from your airway.

Coughing is not just a reflex action, though, as you can cough at any time – this is most commonly done for the purpose of clearing the throat. Despite this, however, the automatic reflex to cough is the body’s vital protection against smoke, nasal mucus and wrongly-swallowed food that might enter the air passage accidentally. If the body is deprived of this automatic reflex it would be much more susceptible to infections as well as being open to the likelihood of chemical irritants causing damage to both the airways and lung tissue.

A common example of the kind of virus that tends to attack the windpipe or larynx is croup, which tends to be more common in children and makes an individual sound like a barking seal. It is most usually treated with steam, or occasionally medicine to lower the swelling in the larynx.

Pneumonia, which is caused by fluid build up in the lungs, also results in coughing, but this condition is not so common on its own and presents with other symptoms. Another well-known cause of coughing is bronchitis, which is basically an irritation in the large primary airways used by our lungs for obtaining and expelling gas. Asthma is another trigger for coughing, due to the fact that it results in inflammation of the airways.

Also, a recent discovery by scientific researchers at Hull University in the UK has shown the existence of a group of molecules located on the surface of nerve cells that precipitate the coughing reflex on irritation of the nerve cells. The discovery could result in the development of new medications to treat coughs. The researchers found a group of receptors (protein molecules) that are located on the surface on nerve cells, and facilitate the transportation of signals inside the nerve cells for processing. Scientists hope to identify existing blocking agents with the aim of resetting the coughing reflex for those who suffer from chronic coughs to regular levels rather than halting it entirely due to its positive benefits by acting as a defense mechanism in order to keep out unwanted debris and pathogens that could potentially kill us if not handed appropriately by our bodies.