cough(redirected from coughing)
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a reflex act usually occurring as a result of the irritation of the mucous membrane in the respiratory tract during an inflammatory process caused by pathological products (for example, sputum) or foreign bodies. A cough is one of the principal indications of disease in the respiratory organs (larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs). The cough center in the brain can sometimes be stimulated without irritation of the respiratory tracts. This is the so-called nervous cough that occurs in cases of fear and embarrassment. A distinction is made between a dry cough (without the formation and secretion of sputum) and a wet cough (with sputum).
The cough stimulus begins by deep inhalation, followed by a tensing of the bronchial and all the respiratory muscles resulting in forced expulsion. In so doing, the rima glottidis is closed, and intrathoracic pressure rises sharply. With the opening of the rima glottidis, the air bursts forth from the respiratory tract, carrying with it the sputum that has accumulated in the bronchi and pulmonary alveoli, dust particles, and so forth. Thus, a cough can be beneficial in helping to cleanse the respiratory tract. However, a protracted and severe cough that occurs with infections of the pleura, liver, and some other organs is harmful to the organism, since a systematic elevation of the intrathoracic and intrabronchial pressure leads to the gradual formation of pulmonary emphysema and impedes the flow of blood through the veins to the heart. This can lead to cardiopulmonary insufficiency.
Treatment is directed at the affliction that has caused thecough. With a wet cough, particularly if it is difficult to bring upthe sputum, expectorants are used; with a dry, persistent cough, cough suppressants are administered.