Everyone will cough at some point as it’s a natural defence mechanism.
• Active smoking. The chemicals in tobacco smoke irritate and damage the lung lining, and make the lungs produce more mucus. Not all smokers will cough, but it’s very common.
• Aeroallergens (airborne substances that can cause an allergic response). If you’re allergic to certain inhaled allergens like pollen or pet dander, it can trigger allergic rhinitis (hay fever), which can cause coughing along with worsening asthma, if applicable.
• Environmental irritants. There are many irritants in our home and work environments (e.g. smoke, strong chemical fumes, mould). On their own, or when coupled with a lack of ventilation, these irritants can cause coughing.
• Chronic respiratory illness. Examples include asthma, chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis.
• Outdoor air pollution. Living near freeways, dusty work places (e.g. working in a quarry) and certain chemical plants may result in coughing.
Reviewed by Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. MBChB, MRCP(UK), Dip HIV(Man), MMED, FCP(SA), Cert Pulm(SA), PhD.