The value of the cough reflex and its pressure and flow in the immediate postoperative period was measured in patients who underwent subtotal oesophagectomy and reconstruction for oesophageal cancer and other thoracic surgery. Twenty-two patients with subtotal oesophagectomy and reconstruction were found to have an extensive reduction in cough reflex and force, compared with those who had undergone pulmonary lobectomy. Damage to the vagal nerve caused by dissection of the paratracheal lymph nodes, and injury to the diaphragm during operation for oesophageal cancer appeared to be responsible for the inability to cough. It was of interest that the patients who showed a high value of cough reflex and force in the immediate postoperative period had few pulmonary complications. The postoperative measurement of cough ability may be a useful indicator for safe extubation of the intratracheal tube, as a means of preventing pulmonary complications after thoracic surgery. Continuous mechanical ventilation and frequent suction to remove retained secretions are strongly recommended for the patients who are unable to cough properly.