What is a cough?

A cough is a natural reflex involving breathing and muscle contractions. A cough helps your body heal, protect itself and clear your throat and airways of irritants and mucus. There are three types of cough:

  • Acute cough, which begins suddenly and lasts 2-3 weeks.
  • Subacute cough (also called persistent cough), which stays after an infection and lasts 3-8 weeks.
  • Chronic cough, which lasts longer than 8 weeks.

Who is more likely to experience a cough?

Anyone can get a cough. Cough is the most common symptom reported in the offices of healthcare providers.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/30/2018.


  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Cough. Accessed 4/4/2018.
  • Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education. Disease Management. Cough. Accessed 4/4/2018.
  • National Institute of Health. News in Health. Cough Culprits. Accessed 4/4/2018.
  • Cough. In: Papadakis MA, McPhee SJ. eds. Quick Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2017 New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  • Maselli D, Anzueto A. Chapter 24. Cough. In: Henderson MC, Tierney LM, Jr., Smetana GW. eds. The Patient History: An Evidence-Based Approach to Differential Diagnosis New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012.

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