a woman coughing

A Cough Is Very Beneficial

Last updated: June 2022

A cough can be annoying at times. This is especially true when you have a chronic cough or a cough that won’t go away.

Still, a cough has a very important role. It is essential for keeping us healthy. My job as a respiratory therapist is to make sure my patients have an effective cough.

Why is a cough so important? 

A cough is a reflex. In fact, the medical term for this is “cough reflex.” Your cough reflex is a part of your immune system. It’s one of the many natural mechanisms to help keep your lungs sterile or free and clear of germs.

Generally speaking, coughing is meant to keep your lungs healthy.

Your airways are lined with a thin layer of sticky mucus. When you inhale germs, these germs stick to the mucus and the mucus balls up the germ. This creates phlegm in the back of your throat.

This phlegm irritates nerves along your airways and this triggers your cough reflex. This sends a signal to your brain to make you cough. To learn more about the cough reflex, you can read my post here.

What happens if you don't cough?

Some people are unable to cough and others are able to cough but it is ineffective. An ineffective cough means the phlegm may linger in your airways.

When this happens, it may create a breeding ground for germs. This increases your risk of developing diseases like pneumonia.

Pneumonia may trigger COPD flare-ups. It may cause respiratory failure and even death. So, it is my role as a respiratory therapist to help my patients enhance their cough.

Helping those who are unable to cough

There are many ways I can do this.

Take, for example, a quadriplegic patient. These patients, usually due to a spinal cord injury, have lost their ability to move their arms and/or legs.

Most have lost the ability to produce an effective cough. So, of course, they need to cough. It is my job to help them with this. This is where a “Quad Cough” comes in handy.

We have to have our timing just right. As they make an effort to cough, I push down on their abdomen.

This causes pressure that helps them cough. It helps them bring up phlegm.

You may be thinking this sounds painful. But, I have been assured by the quad patients I have cared for that it is not.

Quite the contrary, it is far better than having phlegm lingering in your airways. After the cough, they are able to breathe more easily.

Plus, they have the assurance that their lungs are free and clear of any inhaled germs.

I can also use suction. This is similar to what is done at your dentist. If a person has no cough reflex, I can enter a suction catheter into your airway.

This can help suck the phlegm out. This is just an option for some patients. It’s there if we need it.

Thankfully, for most patients, we don’t usually need to go to such extremes.  We do not use these for COPD patients.

These are just examples of things we can do when people can’t cough. This goes to show how important we in healthcare know a cough can be to keeping our patients healthy.

Simple ways of enhancing a COPD cough

COPD is a disease that may generate extra mucus. And this mucus may linger in your lungs. It may become thick and difficult to bring up.

Or, in some cases, you may not be able to generate enough flow to produce an effective cough.

So, we have some strategies that may help enhance your cough. All of them are things that you can do on your own, as they are quite simple.

All of this is an effort to keep your lungs free and clear of germs. It's a way of keeping your lungs healthy.

That is why coughing, while sometimes frustrating, is very beneficial.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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