How Cough Forms in Human Body Animation - How Coughing Works Video - Mechanism of Cough Reflex

Coughing is a sudden expulsion of air from the lungs through the epiglottis at an amazingly fast speed (estimated at 100 miles per hour). With such a strong force of air, coughing is the body’s mechanism for clearing the breathing passageways of unwanted irritants.

In order for a cough to occur, several events need to take place in sequence. First, the vocal cords open widely, allowing additional air to pass through into the lungs. Then the epiglottis closes off the windpipe (larynx), and simultaneously, the abdominal and rib muscles contract, increasing the pressure behind the epiglottis. With the increased pressure, the air is forcefully expelled, and creates a rushing sound as it moves very quickly past the vocal cords. The rushing air dislodges the irritant, making it possible to breathe comfortably again.
The cough reflex has both sensory (afferent) mainly via the vagus nerve and motor (efferent) components. Pulmonary irritant receptors (cough receptors) in the epithelium of the respiratory tract are sensitive to both mechanical and chemical stimuli. The bronchi and trachea are so sensitive to light touch that slight amounts of foreign matter or other causes of irritation initiate the cough reflex. The larynx and carina are especially sensitive, and the terminal bronchioles and even the alveoli are sensitive to chemical stimuli such as sulfur dioxide gas or chlorine gas. The rapidly moving air usually carries with it any foreign matter that is present in the bronchi or trachea. Stimulation of the cough receptors by dust or other foreign particles produces a cough, which is necessary to remove the foreign material from the respiratory tract before it reaches the lungs.
The cough receptors, or rapidly adapting irritant receptors are located mainly on the posterior wall of the trachea, pharynx, and at the carina of trachea, the point where the trachea branches into the main bronchi. The receptors are less abundant in the distal airways, and absent beyond the respiratory bronchioles. When triggered, impulses travel via the internal laryngeal nerve, a branch of the superior laryngeal nerve which stems from the vagus nerve (CN X), to the medulla of the brain. This is the afferent neural pathway. Unlike other areas responsible for involuntary actions like swallowing, there is no definitive area that has been identified as the cough center in the brain.
The efferent neural pathway then follows, with relevant signals transmitted back from the cerebral cortex and medulla via the vagus and superior laryngeal nerves to the glottis, external intercostals, diaphragm, and other major inspiratory and expiratory muscles. The mechanism of a cough is as follows:
• Diaphragm (innervated by phrenic nerve) and external intercostal muscles (innervated by segmental intercostal nerves) contract, creating a negative pressure around the lung.
• Air rushes into the lungs in order to equalise the pressure.
• The glottis closes (muscles innervated by recurrent laryngeal nerve) and the vocal cords contract to shut the larynx.
• The abdominal muscles contract to accentuate the action of the relaxing diaphragm; simultaneously, the other expiratory muscles contract. These actions increase the pressure of air within the lungs.
• The vocal cords relax and the glottis opens, releasing air at over 100 mph.
• The bronchi and non-cartilaginous portions of the trachea collapse to form slits through which the air is forced, which clears out any irritants attached to the respiratory lining.
Stimulation of the auricular branch of the vagus nerve supplying the ear may also elicit a cough. This is known as Arnold’s reflex. Respiratory muscle weakness, tracheostomy, or vocal cord pathology (including paralysis or anesthesia) may prevent effective clearing of the airways.
The reflex is impaired in the person whose abdominals and respiratory muscles are weak. This problem can be caused by disease condition that lead to muscle weakness or paralysis, by prolonged inactivity, or as outcome of surgery involving these muscles. Bed rest interferes with the expansion of the chest and limits the amount of air that can be taken into the lungs in preparation for coughing, making the cough weak and ineffective. This reflex may also be impaired by damage to the internal branch of the superior laryngeal nerve which relays the afferent branch of the reflex arc. This nerve is most commonly damaged by swallowing a foreign object, such as a chicken bone, resulting in it being lodged in the piriform recess (in the laryngopharynx) or by surgical removal of said object.
The cough reflex can be tested by inhaling air with nebulized 200µmol/l capsaicin.

Having a cough is one of the most common reasons for seeing your doctor. Coughing is important to keep your throat and airways clear by getting rid of mucus or other irritating particles. However, a long-lasting (chronic) or severe cough may mean you have an underlying disease or disorder.


By AniMed

27 thoughts on “How Cough Forms in Human Body Animation – How Coughing Works Video – Mechanism of Cough Reflex”
  1. When I cough there a sound came like dog is barking if anyone know anything then please help me because it gets worse and it's been 4 months please help me and wish for that I get recover faster


  3. Recently i faced this thing. i started coughing 6 to 7 months ago i ignored it initially considering it would subside on its own but it rather became worse. it was given various syrups from different doctors but nothing really worked .then i used Kaas har churna from Planet ayurveda and it gave me amazing results.

  4. Does coughing too hard damage your epiglottis ? I coughted with force and my throats insides towards the left felt like it's been pierced with many needles… it dangerous to cough too hard?

  5. very well explained as my daughter has also suffered from chronic cough and none of us were able to understand the reason behind it and we came across Planet Ayurveda from where we ordered their herbal medicines and now she is doing much better.

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