Common Cough Myths

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Playing Common Cough Myths

Did you know a cough can reach 500 miles per hour as it passes from your lungs through your vocal chords? It's true! A cough can travel faster than a sneeze, a NASCAR racer, and the world's fastest bullet train.

Coughing is one of the most common reasons people see a doctor each year, so it's surprising how many cough myths are still out there. ER physician Dr. Travis Stork is joined by Pfizer's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, to help separate fact from fiction when it comes to your cough.

Cough Myth #1: All coughs are contagious.

This is untrue. Coughing is simply a reaction to an irritated airway. Some non-contagious causes of coughing are allergies, asthma, and a condition called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Acid reflux disease may also be a cause of unexplained coughing.

Cough Myth #2: Mucus appearance determines how sick you are.

This is untrue. When it comes to mucus, thicker does not always mean sicker. A cough can be wet or dry. A wet cough can signal an infection like bronchitis or pneumonia - but pneumonia can also be accompanied by a dry cough.

If you're worried about a cough, be sure to see your doctor. Duration can be important in getting the correct diagnosis, so make sure to tell them how long you've had your cough. For most people with a cold, the flu, or pneumonia, coughing will last between one and three weeks. This is called an acute cough. But coughs that last longer than eight weeks are considered chronic. If you have a chronic cough, it should be evaluated by a doctor.

Cough Myth #3: All coughs need antibiotics.

This is untrue. Your doctor is the right person to judge how a cough should be treated. For example, acute bronchitis (a common cause of a cough) can be either viral or bacterial, and most cases can be treated without antibiotics.

If you have a dry cough, here are a few tips to help treat it:

  • Keep cough drops or hard candies on hand, as they can help soothe an irritated throat. (Caution: Cough drops and hard candies should never be given to children under three years of age.)
  • Keep your home clear of dust and irritants.
  • Try using a vaporizer or taking a hot, steamy shower to help ease your cough.
  • Research suggests honey may be an effective cough suppressant, so a cup of tea with lemon and honey is a classic cough remedy. (Caution: Honey should not be given to children under one year of age, as it may have spores that can cause a rare but serious illness.)

Remember, most coughs go away in a few weeks. If they don't, see a doctor.

For more information on coughs and other important issues, visit

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