What is cough and what should be measured?

Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2007;20(4):307-12. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2006.11.009. Epub 2006 Dec 14.


Cough is usually defined as a three-phase event, although for convenience clinicians may prefer to define it as only the expiratory expulsive efforts. Cough may occur as a single event or as a cough 'epoch' (or 'bout' or 'attack') that includes several or many expiratory efforts in a single episode. The distinction between a single cough and a cough epoch is important, both in mechanistic and clinical implications, since the latter may include many 'expiration reflexes' (ERs), for which the functions and neural mechanisms are different from those of the cough reflex. We describe the various ways in which cough can be assessed. For simplicity in clinical work the main methods are patient scores or automated cough counters; these assess only one aspect of the complex changes in cough. For analytical and basic medical studies other facets of cough need to be included: expiratory EMGs, respiratory pressures, airflows and lung volume changes. Cough 'intensity', a much used expression, needs to be defined in terms of the facets of cough which are being measured.

MeSH terms

  • Cough / diagnosis
  • Cough / etiology
  • Cough / physiopathology*
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Respiratory System*
  • Humans
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Sound