1. Common Health Problems


"The air in the dorm is so dry, that it makes a lot of us cough at night. We find that a cheap humidifier or even a large bowl of water in the room adds enough moisture to relieve those nightly coughs."

– Rachael G., Cornell University

Coughing clears the lungs and airways. Coughing  is only a symptom, not the problem.

Signs & Symptoms

There are 3 kinds of coughs:

  1. Productive. This brings up mucus or phlegm.

  2. Nonproductive. This is a dry cough.

  3. Reflex. This is a cough that comes from a problem somewhere else, like the ear or stomach.


  1. Tobacco smoke.

  2. Dry air.

  3. Infections. Examples are bronchitis, colds, and the flu. (See "Colds & Flu.")

  4. Allergies and postnasal drip.

  5. Asthma.

Other causes include having something stuck in your windpipe and acid reflux from the stomach that comes with heartburn. Coughing can also be a symptom of a medical condition, such as asthma.


For Coughs that Bring Up Mucus

  1. Drink plenty of liquids, such as water, hot tea, and fruit juice.

  2. Use a cool-mist vaporizer in your room.

  3. Take a shower. The steam helps thin mucus.

  4. Take an over-the-counter expectorant or cough medicine containing guaifenesin.

  5. Don't smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke.

For Coughs that Are Dry

  1. Drink liquids. Have warm tea, chicken soup, etc.

  2. Suck on cough drops or hard candy.

  3. Take an over-the-counter cough medicine that contains dextromethorphan. Take it as directed.

Questions to Ask


How to treat your cough depends on what kind it is. Treat the cause and soothe the irritation. Stay away from smoking and secondhand smoke. Smoke hurts your lungs and makes it harder for your body to fight an infection.

With coughing, do you have signs of a severe allergic reaction?

  1. A hard time breathing or swallowing.

  2. Severe swelling all over, or of the face, lips, tongue, and/or throat.

  3. Obstructed airway.

  4. Wheezing.

  5. Dizziness, weakness.

With a cough, do you have any of these problems?

  1. A hard time breathing.

  2. Fainting.

  3. You cough up true red blood.

Does a cough persist after an episode of choking on food or a foreign object?

With a cough, do you have any of these problems?

  1. An itchy, red splotchy rash.

  2. A fever of 102°F (38.8°C) or higher.

  3. Your chest hurts only when you cough and the pain goes away when you sit up or lean forward.

  4. You cough up green, yellow, or bloody-colored mucus.

  5. You lose weight for no reason, have fatigue, and sweat a lot at night.

Does your cough last for more than 2 weeks without getting better?