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Why Coughing Continues Post Flu Season

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Just when we think that cold and flu season is behind us, allergic reactions to the rebirth of trees, plants and grasses creates the possibility of more coughing.

The cough is simply a respiratory reaction as a defense mechanism for the lungs. It protects the lungs from irritants and damaging substances. As a reflex action, it increases the internal pressure in the chest. With a cold or allergies, the normal breathing muscles are in for a workout.

Respiratory muscles used in coughing include the abdominal and rib (intercostal) muscles as well as the diaphragm. Coughing causes the abdominal and intercostal muscles to tighten. The diaphragm then relaxes and causes an increase in chest pressure.

The diaphragm and external intercostal muscles act during inhalation. The abdominal muscles are made up of the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, and the transversus abdominis. These abdominal muscles and the internal intercostal muscles come into play with the compression and exhalation of the cough.

If you’ve ever had a chronic cough due to cold or allergies you know your abdominal muscles hurt from coughing constantly. In fact, prolonged coughing can even strain the abdominal or rib muscles so that they are sore not only when coughing, but afterwards too.

Because coughing is a very forceful action and often is prolonged, respiratory accessory muscles get involved. These muscles include the scalenes, stemoclidomastoid, upper trapezius, levator costorum, para spinals, subdavius, pectorals, serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi and serratus posterior muscles. These accessory muscles have other responsibilities for action in the body but they assist the breathing process when the system is under the stress of coughing.

Not unaffected by coughing are the throat muscles. The pharyngeal constrictors, tongue and other pharynx muscles control the flow of air through the trachea or windpipe. The throat closes initially in coughing and there can also be pain or soreness in the muscles involved in this portion of a cough.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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