Chronic coughing and throat clearing, elimination strategies

Blog Cough

Coughing and throat clearing are a part of life right?

Coughing and throat clearing are a part of life. They perform an important job keeping your lungs safe and your airways clear, especially if you have a cold or flu or uncontrolled allergy. There are many things that can cause congestion and phlegm to accumulate in the upper airway and for 80% people a medical solution can be found and the cough and throat clear is no longer required for your body to keep the lungs clear. But what if your medical condition has been treated and your body has developed a pattern of coughing and throat clearing. Those around you will be concerned that you are ill or ‘contagious’. For many, it is annoying to say the least, to be next to or work alongside someone who is constantly coughing or throat clearing. The pattern that has developed can be damaging to your vocal system and can create more irritation in the upper airway. What if I told you a pattern like this can be resolved with a speech pathology treatment?

Sometimes a pattern has gone on so long, ther person is not even aware anymore that it is happening.

We have been fortunate in Australia to have brilliant researchers like Dr Anne Vertigan at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, and the medical team led by Dr Peter Gibson who have researched this condition and found that ‘patten’ cough, not treatable by a medical solution can in fact be eliminated or minimised with behavioural strategies. Their treatments are leading the way in international research on this topic.

When cough is not helping, it’s damaging

The vocal folds open to breathe and air can freely pass through the vocal folds in this position. The vocal folds close when we speak. Air passes through the closed vocal folds and creates a vibration, which causes voice to occur. When you cough, or clear your throat, the vocal folds slam together. This can be very damaging to the vocal folds if you cough or clear your throat constantly. When you swallow, our vocal folds also close but they do so with a gentle movement. They close so that no food, drink or saliva can enter the airway.

Five facts about cough & throat clear

Coughing or throat clearing can be triggered by irritation of larynx, throat or tubes leading to the lungs. Coughing can become a vicious cycle where irritation leads to coughing, coughing causes more irritation and this irritation leads to more coughing.


Coughing or throat clearing protects the body by clearing the lungs and airway of secretions such as phlegm or food ro liquid not adequaltely cleared during swallowing or gone down the wrong way or when you have a chest infection. IN this case a cough is important for your body.


However, coughing or throat clearing is not always necessary. In the case of chronic cough the cough is often occurring in response to irritation rather than because anything needs to be cleared from your lungs or chest. In other words, there is no benefit to coughing. In fact, there are a lot of negative side effects to coughing such as increasing throat irritation and even leads to urinary incontinence.


Coughing is both automatic and under conscious control. Coughing like everything else we do, is controlled by the brain. Automatic functions like breathing, keeping our body at the right temperature occur in the medulla or base of the brain which acts as a control centre. However, research shows that the front part of brain that allows us ‘conscious control’ , the cerebral cortex is also activated when we cough. In Speech Pathology treatment we aim to strengthen your voluntary control of cough.


The most common causes of cough are asthma, gastroesophageal reflux, post-nasal drip, eosinophilic bronchitis, smoking, lung pathology and vocal cord dysfunction. Speech pathology intervention is designed for patients who have developed a pattern of coughing or throat clearing that that has persisted despite medical medical treatments

How does Speech Pathology help with coughing and throat clearing?

Firstly, a speech pathologist will help you to increase the voluntarily control of coughing and throat clearing despite persistence of irritation in the upper airway.

Secondly, treatment aims to reduce the irritation in your upper airway. There are several strategies for reducing irritation, that will be used in a therapy program.

So if your medical specialist has referred you for treatment, there is much that can be done to help you with a habit of coughing and throat clearing beyond medical treatments alone.

Sharon Moore

Author, speaker, sleep health advocate and speech pathologist

I'm Sharon Moore, author, speaker, sleep health advocate and speech pathologist at Well Spoken Upper Airway & Communication Solutions. I've seen more than 40,000 families over 4 decades of clinical work and I’ve seen first-hand how upper airway issues impact both health and happiness. The ripple effects span across family, school, community and society, and left untreated can last a life-time. I believe that great treatment transforms lives, the earlier the better and that everyone has a right to be happy, healthy and heard. I've worked in medical settings in Australia and London and currently run Well Spoken clinic in Canberra treating patients of all ages referred by medical and dental specialists for disorders of function of the upper airway that impact breathing, eating and communication.

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