ZocdocAnswersWhy does pneumonia cause coughing?

Question

Why does pneumonia cause coughing?

My wife has pneumonia and she has a bad cough, but it's hardly productive at all. I don't understand this. Why would pneumonia make her cough if it doesn't get rid of any of the stuff in her lungs? Is that normal?

Answer

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, usually by bacteria or viruses. It usually requires medical treatment and evaluation. The doctors who will be well qualified to discuss this issue with you in greater detail include your wife's primary care doctor. Cough is a common symptom in pneumonia. It is caused by the inflammation and irritation of the passages in the lungs, which is sensed by small nerve endings which trigger the cough. As you say, the likely origin of the cough reflex is to bring material out of the lungs to protect them. However, the actually amount of material that comes out of the lungs depends a lot on what type of pneumonia it is. There are some bacterial pneumonias, often called 'lobal pneumonias' which tend to produce a lot of inflammation and generate a lot of pus - these usually result in productive cough. However, 'atypical pneumonias' generally cause enough inflammation to provoke a cough but not enough to cause the productive of significant sputum. As always the diagnosis and the management of your wife's particular condition will require a physical examination by her personal physician. If her symptoms are not improving, setting up a visit with her primary care doctor is highly recommended.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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