We review cough from premature birth, mature neonatal life, in childhood and adult life, and in old age. There is a regrettable lack of definitive studies, but many clues in the literature. The cough reflex seems weak in premature infants, but develops with maturity. It is pronounced in childhood, but there seem to be no studies comparing its strength then with that in adulthood. In old age the cough may weaken, as indicated by the prevalence of aspiration pneumonia. These changes are presumably related to the development and degeneration of the afferent and central nervous pathways for cough, which may be reflected in the changes in laryngeal muscle function with age. There is much evidence that age influences the development of the respiratory system in general, and of the immune system which would affect the degree, frequency and clinical issues of cough. Other factors that limit our understanding of the changes in cough with age include the reporting of cough by parents in infants and carers in old age and the use of different diagnostic criteria throughout life. Age-related variation in cough sensitivity seems to be well established, but its quantitation and mechanisms require much further research. Crown Copyright (c) 2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.