It is important for you to understand how cough works so you can better control your cough.
Inside your voice box (the larynx) are the vocal cords. The vocal cords are open when you breathe so that air can pass easily in and out of your lungs.
When you swallow food, drink and saliva your vocal cords gently and firmly close together. This protects your airways by preventing food, drink and saliva from entering your lungs.
When you speak your vocal cords vibrate together in a closed position.
When you cough and when you clear your throat your vocal cords slam together. Frequent coughing and throat clearing can irritate and damage your vocal cords.
Cough protects your body by clearing your throat, chest and lungs of things that irritate or harm your body, such as dust, phlegm and mucous. Your cough protects your body when food goes down the wrong way or you have a chest infection.
Irritation in your vocal cords, throat or lungs can make you cough. Sometimes the cough is automatic but other times the cough is deliberate when the irritation is felt in the throat. Coughing can become a vicious cycle where irritation leads to coughing, coughing causes more irritation and this irritation leads to more coughing.
When cough becomes chronic the cough occurs in response to irritation even though there is nothing to be cleared from the chest or lungs. There is no benefit to this type of coughing. Instead it increases the irritation in the throat and leads to more coughing.
Your cough can be strong and automatic while at other times you can suppress a desire to cough. Sometimes you may cough deliberately to try to get rid of irritation.
Speech pathology treatment increases the ability to voluntarily control your cough. Although irritation may build up in the throat it will eventually be possible to control or suppress the cough when you feel that something needs to be coughed up.
Speech pathology treatment also reduces the degree of irritation in your throat and airway. A cough is triggered once irritation builds up to a certain level. Reducing irritation in your throat and airway will reduce coughing.
This article outlines a treatment approach for speech pathology management of chronic cough. It provides a protocol for management of this condition, including evaluation, treatment, patient education and the importance of motivation and compliance.
Originally published in Journal of Medical Speech-Language Pathology, Vol 15, no 3, 2007, pp 189-206.