Recording cough sounds to objectively quantify coughing was first performed using large reel-to-reel tape recorders more than 40 years ago. Coughs were counted manually, which is an extremely laborious and time-consuming process. Current technologies including digital recording techniques, data compression and improvements in digital storage capacity should make the process of recording and counting coughs suitable for automation; however, to date no accurate, objective cough monitoring device is available. Cough sounds are easily distinguishable from other vocalizations by the human ear and hence it is reasonable to assume that coughs sounds should have characteristic, identifying acoustic properties. However, the acoustic features of spontaneously occurring cough sounds are extremely variable. Furthermore, in even the worst cases of cough, the time spent speaking is an order of magnitude greater than the time spent coughing. It follows that even an algorithm that mistakes only a very small proportion of speech as cough will still have an unacceptable false positive rate. There is a clear need for an objective measure of cough for use in clinical practice, clinical research and trials of novel treatments. In the near future automated ambulatory systems with sufficient accuracy to be of clinical use should be available.