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Before We Get Started: What Is a Cough?

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Cough is an airway defensive reflex consisting of an inspiratory phase followed by a forced expiratory effort initially against a closed glottis, followed by active glottal opening and rapid expiratory flow. The expiration reflex (ER) differentiates from cough for the lack of a preparatory inspiration. The reflexes subserve different functions: cough will clear the lower airways from debris and mucus, while the expiration reflex will prevent aspiration. Clinically, a cough epoch is a sequence of motor acts resulting from a combination of true coughs and ERs that need to be accurately identified and measured for adequate quantitative description.

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The author is grateful to Prof. John Widdicombe who has inspired many of the concepts presented in this article.

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Correspondence to Giovanni A. Fontana.

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Fontana, G.A. Before We Get Started: What Is a Cough?. Lung 186 (Suppl 1), 3–6 (2008).

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