What Really Happens To Your Body When You Hold In A Cough

Cold and flu season, allergies, and even inhaling an irritant like smoke or perfume can cause an unpleasant coughing fit. Coughing is the body’s way of getting rid of anything that’s irritating the throat or lungs. It’s estimated that coughs can be expelled from the mouth at speeds of up to 100 mph (via Penn Medicine). While we all know that we should cover our mouths when we cough so the droplets that contain our germs don’t go flying, should we also be trying to keep ourselves from coughing in the first place? Coughing may not feel great, but holding in a cough can keep your body from doing what it needs to in order to keep you healthy.

There are several different types of coughs that stem from health conditions. They can last anywhere from a few days to longer than eight weeks (via MedlinePlus). Coughs that last for a short period of time are known as acute coughs, and those that last for an extended period of time are called chronic coughs. Some coughs produce phlegm while others are considered dry coughs and do not produce anything. Respiratory tract infections, allergic rhinitis, and irritants can cause acute coughing. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and even certain medications can cause chronic coughs (per Medical News Today).

Coughing is a natural defense against illness

Attempting to hold in a cough essentially keeps your body from expelling something that shouldn’t be there. Mucus that contains pathogens may be loosened or ejected during a cough, which keeps it from getting into your lungs where it could cause an infection (via Harvard Health). If you don’t allow your body to cough up irritants like mucus, you could be increasing your chance for illness. Even taking cough suppressants too frequently can keep your body from doing this important job.

Coughs can often be treated successfully with a humidifier, cough drops, and the consumption of fluids and over-the-counter medications (via Penn Medicine). While most coughs will go away once the underlying condition that’s causing the cough is treated, some coughs may be cause for concern. If you have excess mucus production or are coughing up any amount of blood, it’s important to see a medical professional for treatment. Coughs that are severe, last a long time, or continue to get worse should also be evaluated by a doctor for potential treatment.

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