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Effective coughing

An effective cough is a coordinated and powerful cough that moves mucus in the airways.

A good cough involves the following elements:

  1. Deep inspiration to fill the air with lungs.
  2. Containment of the air by the throat muscles.
  3. Pressurisation of the air with the aid of the stomach muscles.
  4. Opening of the pharynx with rapid exhalation of air out of the lungs.


How do I know if coughing is effective?

The subsequent strong air flow sweeps mucus and airway secretions up the pharynx and out of the lungs. We can measure the air whilst coughing to find out whether the cough creates a sufficiently strong airflow. This is called the Peak Cough Flow or cough PEF (peak expiratory flow). For healthy adults, it should be 270 l/min and at least over 160 l/min to move mucus.

Illustration of woman measuring speed on airflow while coughingIllustration by Hege Bø.