COUGH: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW. | Dr. Yeibake Weriwoyingipre Silver

The cough reflex is a protective mechanism that helps to clear the airways of mucus, irritants, or foreign particles. When our airway is irritated, it sends a signal to the brain, which then triggers the muscles in our chest and abdomen to quickly expel air, clearing or removing the irritant. This reflex acts as a crucial defense mechanism for the respiratory system. "Cough is not a disease process."

Kindly note the beautifully coordinated steps involved in the action we know as cough:

1. Irritant detection: The first step in the cough reflex is the detection of an irritant in the airways, such as dust, smoke, or mucus by special protein complexes called irritant receptors (for convenience) which convert the sensation into an electrical impulse.

2. Signal transmission: The receptors in the airway send the signals along nerves to the brain, specifically to a part called "the cough center" located in the medulla oblongata, a part of the brainstem.

3. Signal processing: The brain processes these signals and responds by sending nerve impulses back to the muscles involved in the coughing process.

4. Muscle contraction: The diaphragm, abdominal muscles, and muscles in the chest wall contract, increasing the pressure in the chest and forcing air out of the lungs at a high speed, making the sound that is characteristic of a cough.

5. Expelling irritant: The forceful release of air clears the airway, expelling/removing the irritant and helping to protect the respiratory system.

The above steps are designed to occur repeatedly until the irritant is removed from the airways or respiratory system or drugs are given to suppress this important protective function. 

Although taking cough medication for relief as first aid is usual, it is best to identify and address the cause as soon as possible. Seek medical attention if 2 to 3 days of therapy do not improve or the symptoms worsen rapidly. 

Dr. Yeibake Weriwoyingipre Silver
Senior Registrar, 
Faculty Of Paediatrics, WACP.

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