Everyone will cough at some point as it’s a natural defence mechanism. Dusty environments and simple viral illnesses will make most of us cough, but there are certain situations that could increase the risk.
- 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.
Diagnosing a cough
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. February 2018.