Deep Coughing

Deep coughing helps keep your lungs clear. If you’ve had surgery, this will help you get better faster. Deep coughing also helps you breathe easier and may prevent a lung infection or other complications. Follow these steps to do deep coughing.

Man holding pillow to chest, coughing.

Step 1

  • Sit on the edge of a bed or a chair. You can also lie on your back with your knees slightly bent.

  • Lean forward slightly.

  • If you've had surgery on your chest or stomach, hold a pillow or rolled-up towel firmly against your cut (incision) with both hands. Hug the pillow.

  • Breathe out normally.

Step 2

  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.

  • Then breathe out fully through your mouth. Repeat this breathing in and out a second time.

  • For the third time, take a slow, deep breath through your nose. Fill your lungs with as much air as you can.

Step 3

  • Cough 2 or 3 times in a row. Try to push all of the air out of your lungs as you cough. Cover your cough, if possible, with a tissue or your elbow.

  • If you cough up mucus, spit it into a tissue. Don't swallow it.
  • Relax and breathe normally.

  • Repeat the above steps as directed.

  • Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water for 20 seconds afterward.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • Signs of infection, if you've had surgery. These include redness, swelling, drainage, or warmth at your incision site, or pus or fluid draining from the site

  • Minor bleeding from surgical site
  • Brownish, white, or bloody sputum

  • Upset stomach (nausea) or vomiting

  • More pain

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat

  • New cough

Call 911

Shortness of breath may be a sign of a serious health problem. Call 911right away if you have shortness of breath that gets worse or you have trouble breathing, especially with any of the symptoms below:

  • Confusion or trouble staying awake

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Trouble breathing or wheezing

  • Skin, lips, or fingernails turn blue

  • Coughing up blood

  • Severe pain

  • Dizziness or weakness

  • Severe bleeding or new opening at surgical site