DefinitionBy Mayo Clinic staff
A cough is your body's way of responding to irritants in your throat and airways. An irritant stimulates nerves there to send a cough impulse to your brain. The brain signals the muscles of your abdomen and chest wall to give a strong push of air to your lungs to try to expel the irritant.
An occasional cough is normal and healthy. A cough that persists for several weeks or one that brings up discolored or bloody mucus may indicate an underlying condition that requires medical attention. A cough rarely requires emergency care.
A coughing attack can be very forceful — the velocity of air from a vigorous cough through the nearly closed vocal cords can approach 500 miles per hour. Prolonged, vigorous coughing is exhausting and can cause sleeplessness, headaches, urinary incontinence, and even broken ribs.
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