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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Test Your Cough IQ

Why you cough, when you cough, and how you cough -- plus a quiz to test your cold and flu smarts.

Cold Coughs, Flu Coughs

Most viral infections, such as the flu, are accompanied by a pretty dry cough, Schachter says, unless some complication occurs. "Colds, which irritate the upper airways, tend to produce wetter coughs because they generate more mucus," he says. But the cough reflex is also influenced by a number of individual factors -- how sensitive you are to irritants; whether you have an underlying condition such as allergies, asthma, or bronchitis; or whether or not you smoke, for example -- as well as the type of infection.

One infectious disease that's made a comeback, Schachter says, is whooping cough, which as its name implies is distinguished by its particular sound: a fit of coughing followed by a whooping sound as you try to catch your breath. "But most coughs associated with colds and flu will ultimately get better no matter what we do," he says.

How much do you know about coughing? Test yourself with our questions here, but be sure to take our full cough quiz, too.

1.What can cause a cough?
a. Allergies
b. Acid reflux
c. Secondhand smoke
d. All of the above

Answer -- d. With allergies, a cough can be caused by postnasal drip -- mucus from your nose or sinuses that builds up in your throat. With heartburn, it might be from acid reflux -- acid that backs up into your throat. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also cause a cough.

2. If you are coughing because you have a cold or flu, it's normal to cough up mucus.

Answer -- True. Coughing up clear or yellow mucus is normal with a cold. You should see your doctor if you're coughing up mucus and have fever, chills, or shortness of breath. It could be a sign of pneumonia.

3. What kind of cough can be treated with cough medicine?
a. Asthma
b. Chronic bronchitis
c. Cold or flu
d. Pneumonia

Answer -- c. Cough medicine won't cure a cold- or flu-related cough, but it can help calm a cough. Talk to your doctor before you use cough medicine for a cough that is helping to clear your lungs -- such as one caused by smoking, emphysema, pneumonia, asthma, or chronic bronchitis. If your cough is due to asthma, it means your asthma is not under control.

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