cough, sudden, forceful expiration of air from the lungs caused by an involuntary contraction of the muscles controlling the process of breathing. The cough is a response to some irritating condition such as inflammation or the presence of mucus (sputum) in the respiratory tract, as in infectious disease, or to heavy dust or industrial or tobacco smoke. Coughing may also be a reflex action to factors outside the respiratory tract; diseases that are not respiratory in nature (e.g., congestive heart failure or mitral valve disease) often bring on coughing. If there is mucus or a foreign substance in the respiratory tract, the cough should not be hindered since by this action the offending matter is expelled from the body. If, however, the cough becomes exhausting, sedation is indicated.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.