Is a Cough Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Whooping Cough Symptoms

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection. Symptoms of whooping cough early in the infection are similar to those of the common cold and include:

  • a dry cough,
  • mild fever,
  • nasal congestion,
  • nasal discharge, and
  • sneezing.

What is a cough?

A cough is defined as the act of forcing air through your throat, often followed by short loud noise. Coughing can be a reflexive action to keep respiratory passages free of irritating substances (such as dust, mucous, phlegm, nasal drainage and foreign bodies). Consequently, a cough reflex can be protective mechanism for the individual. There are many types of coughs including:

  • Dry cough: a cough that doesn't produce mucus (also termed a non-productive cough)
  • Wet cough: a cough that produces mucus or sputum (also termed a productive cough)
  • Barking cough: a cough associated with viral illnesses and/or croup especially in young children usually (croup cough)
  • Whooping cough: a cough associated with infection (pertussis); individuals (usually children) produce a whooping sound when they cough
  • Stress cough: reflexive, nonproductive cough that occurs when an individual is under stress
  • Acute cough: a cough that has just begun or has been intermittent, often resulting within a week or so.
  • Chronic cough: a cough that is persistent over time (more than 1 to 8 or more weeks); the timeframe is controversial as health-care professionals and researchers list a variety of time frames to define a chronic cough

Is a cough contagious?

A cough itself is not contagious. Of note, a cough can be a sign of something irritating, impeding, or blocking an airway. But a cough also can be a method of spreading a viral or bacterial infectious disease if the disease is transmitted by airborne droplets. Consequently, people are understandably concerned that coughing is "contagious". However, what is actually contagious is the infecting pathogen, not the cough itself. The transmitted infecting agent may produce the same symptoms, including a cough, in another individual.

Coughing can induce a gagging reflex that, in turn, can produce vomiting. This situation of coughing with vomiting occasionally occurs. Vomiting can be reflexive and is a means to remove irritating material from the body, specifically the contents of the stomach.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors