When to worry about a cough, from Harvard Men’s Health Watch

For most men, chronic coughing raises the specter of cancer. But is cancer really a common cause of a cough that lingers? And if it's not, what is? The September 2010 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch discusses potential causes of this irritating problem. Cough is actually a vital player in the body's defense against disease. Coughing pushes out mucus, microbes, and foreign particles from the respiratory tract, protecting the lungs from infection and inflammation. In addition, cough-triggering nerves in the respiratory tract can be irritated by infections, allergies, cold air, tumors, smoke, dust, or normal bodily fluids. It's no wonder, then, that so many different things can trigger a cough. No one worries about the occasional cough. And most people are aware that many illnesses—ranging from hay fever and the common cold to bronchitis and pneumonia—cause recurrent coughs that usually fade away in a matter of a few days to a few weeks. In contrast, a chronic cough is defined as one that lingers longer, sometimes lasting for months or even years.
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