Almost all of us have had a bad cough at some time or other. The truth is that coughing is a natural reflex. The reflex action of a cough is the response of the body to an irritable stimulant or foreign body in the throat. So when something triggers coughing, your body automatically responds to clear it out, making sure your lungs and airways remain healthy.
It is, however, a horrible thing to have a cough and most of us will want to get rid of it as soon as we can. So though it may be a natural thing, a cough is definitely not something you want hanging around.
Causes of Coughs
Allergies are among the main causes of regular coughs. It is why many people still have bad coughs in the summer, as the pollen count is high.
Allergies occur when your body’s immune system overreacts to something in the environment, like pollen. The effect of this is to cause inflammation and irritation, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose and, of course, a cough. All of these are ways of your body trying to expel some agent in your larynx or nasal passages it does not want there.
Allergies tend to be with you all your life in some form or other, so it may be you are suffering from an allergy, rather than a cold, if you find yourself with very frequent coughs. If so, get some tests done at a health clinic. The outcomes may be influential in helping you cough less by making some minor adaptations to your lifestyle.
Cold and Flu
Colds and the flu virus are very frequent aspects of life, in winter especially. Both viruses are highly contagious and can cause similar symptoms. It can be difficult to tell one from the other in the early stages, but if you have the flu it can be a really serious illness, so make sure that if your cough continues and is an aggressive cough, you get yourself checked out. If you have the flu and do not rest, you will significantly prolong your condition.
Generally speaking, therefore, a cold is less severe and the symptoms come on gradually. The flu, by contrast, can be sudden and highly debilitating. If your cough is part of the flu virus you will likely also suffer from chills, fever, possibly nausea, and certainly a headache and either a runny nose or a blocked nose. Your whole head will, with flu, feel rotten.
If you are only suffering from a cough, it is probably just a cold virus, though you still need to respond to it and medicate and treat your ailment with respect, for even a cold can give you a bad cough.
Asthma is a chronic condition that can cause coughing. But there are various ways to treat this condition. One of them is medication, which can reduce inflammation and make breathing easier.
In addition, there are alternative treatments that can assist in reducing the worst effects of asthma. You might wonder if those help reduce symptoms of asthma-induced coughing? Well, it’s important to note that lifestyle factors are key to managing asthma. By avoiding triggers, like dust, traffic fumes, pet straw, or cigarette or vape smoke, you can sometimes make improvements to your asthma and lessen your coughing.
Asthma sufferers with a cough may also benefit from looking at their diet, as there is evidence to suggest that foods such as citrus fruits, garlic, and fish may reduce inflammation, making it easier to breathe and less likely you will cough.
A dripping nose
This can be an effect of a bad cough, as the nose is also at work trying to help you get rid of the excess irritants in your throat and nasal passages.
If you are suffering in this way, it is important to drink plentifully and well, to help alleviate the symptoms. Drinking helps thin out the mucus in the throat. Be aware, though, to maximize the benefits don’t glug your drinks, but instead try sipping them – ideally warm liquids like tea or hot water with honey and lemon – throughout the day.
You may also be wise to consider taking a nasal saline rinse, which can help wash out allergens and bacteria from your nasal passages. This is a simple thing to do, and it is also cheap. Simply wash out your nose with a salt water mix and allow the liquids to cleanse their way through your nostrils.
For many people using a humidifier in your home can also help keep the air moist and make it easier to breathe. You will be surprised at the difference it makes. The moisture is actually good for your cough, as it helps avoid the dry air that comes from heating systems drying up the natural moisture in your throat. It is often dryness that means germs get in, as the insulation provided by moisture means they get through more easily.
Acid reflux is a pretty horrible feeling. It happens when stomach acid irritates the back of the throat and it can lead to a persistent cough that can often be quite savage at times.
The key thing to do in this scenario is avoid certain food types, as acid reflux coughing is almost always caused by such foods. Spices, heavy meats, some breads, and generally eating too fast can all cause it.
If that doesn’t work, you can take antacids, and try sleeping with your head slightly elevated can all help reduce symptoms. Some people find this beneficial in avoiding middle of the night coughing fits.
Drinking more water is always wise
When your body gets dehydrated, your throat and lungs become more susceptible to irritation, which makes coughing more likely. By drinking lots of fluids, it helps thin out the mucus in your throat, making it easier for your body to naturally clear it away.
Honey is a great antioxidant and tremendous soother. It keeps your throat gently moist and its very strong anti-inflammatory properties mean that it can help reduce the potency of a cough.
This is a less tasty solution than honey, but another good thing to try!
In order to perform a saltwater gargle, first mix one-quarter to one teaspoon of table salt in a small glass of warm water. (Don’t make it hot.) Once the salt is completely dissolved, use it to rinse your mouth and throat for 30 seconds.
Salt, too, is a natural antiseptic and it will really make a difference. The technique can be tricky at first, as you try to avoid swallowing, but once you get it right it will make a big difference to your throat and your cough. It provides instant relief, and it does longer term good.
This is another simple but highly beneficial remedy. Hot steam helps to break up mucus, reducing your cough’s severity and helping you to breathe easier. Plus, the moist air also helps to soothe throat irritation, providing much-needed relief. Used as a complement to other home remedies, it really helps.
Make a homemade cough syrup
You can actually make your own soothing ‘cough mixture’ by mixing together honey and lemon juice. If your taste buds can take it, you can add in some garlic or ginger too. These are all ‘superfoods’ and will help to break down your congestion, reduce inflammation, and soothe your throat.
You can then add some warm water until you achieve the desired consistency, and you’ve got your own quick and easy remedy for a cough. Plus, it’s free from any chemicals or additives that you might get with store-bought products. It really is totally recommended for all.
Mix a teaspoon of turmeric with warm milk
Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice that has been used in Ayurvedic remedies for centuries.
Its active ingredient is another excellent anti-inflammatory: curcumin. Drunk in teas or infusions, this ingredient can help lower inflammation in your throat, softening your throat again and reducing coughing.
It is widely available, and whether you add it as a powder to a milky drink, or have it in a tea, it will work.
Sucking on Ice Cubes
This may not be the most pleasant thought to some, especially during a winter cough, but it works. Sucking on an ice cube can help by numbing the throat, providing relief from the irritating sensation that accompanies a cough. Additionally, the cold temperature helps reduce inflammation and irritation in the throat, leading to further relief.
Over the Counter Medication
Cough drops are a good way to assist in reducing the potency of a cough, as they help generate necessary moisture. They come in a huge variety of flavors and contain ingredients that can soothe the throat and suppress a cough. Many find that blackcurrant or lemon flavored drops are among the best. Both these fruits are very high in vitamin C, so if you can get drops with natural oils, that will help even more.
Cough suppressants are similar to cough drops, in that they help to keep the throat moist. However, they are different in one key respect in that they work by blocking receptors in the central nervous system that control the coughing reflex. This helps to slow down or stop your body’s natural urge to cough. However, it’s important to remember that cough suppressants are not a cure for the underlying cause of your cough; they simply help to ease the symptoms.
These well known meds help reduce swelling in the nasal passages, making it easier to breathe. They’re usually taken in the form of pills or nasal sprays, and can both help relieve a cough. Sometimes you may be able to breathe quite well even with a cough, but there may be congestion in the overall throat area you are unaware of, so this form of treatment may still be wise to look into.
These are really useful to know about, as a form of medicine for coughs.
Expectorants are medications designed to help break down and expel mucus from the lungs. By thinning the mucus and making it easier to cough up, expectorants can help alleviate persistent and productive coughs. Their method is to work to increase the production of saliva and mucus in the airways, while simultaneously decreasing its viscosity. This therefore allows the mucus to be moved more easily, making coughing it up far easier.
Antihistamines can be useful for treating allergies, which, as we saw, can sometimes cause coughing. However, they won’t work for every cough, so be careful. For example, if you have a viral infection or bronchitis, antihistamines may not make a difference. If, however, you’re dealing with a condition such as asthma or allergies, antihistamines may be able to reduce the frequency and intensity of coughing.
These will likely only be available for you as prescribed by a doctor. Corticosteroids have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling in the airways, which can make it easier to breathe and reduce the symptoms of a cough. Plus, they may also be able to reduce the production of mucus and phlegm that can cause a person to cough.
But, there are risks associated with taking corticosteroids, including an increased risk of infection, high blood sugar levels, and insomnia. You therefore need to talk to a medical professional before determining on this course of action.
Bronchodilators are medicines that open up the airways in the lungs, making it easier for air to flow in and out. They can be taken orally, inhaled into the lungs, or injected. For a cold or cough, bronchodilators can be used to relieve coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. Generally speaking, they can be used safely when necessary. Talk to your medical service or pharmacist, however, to see what they suggest about this approach.
It is tempting to think a pill solves a cough, but in fact antibiotics are only useful for treating bacterial infections, not viruses. If your cough is, however, definitely the result of an infection caused by bacteria, then antibiotics could be the right approach.
However, be aware that sometimes getting the right antibiotic can be trickier than you might think. Some bacteria are now resistant to well known antibiotics and if you take them when they are not really necessary you are making it more likely they will be ineffective in the future.
When to See a Doctor
Cough lasts longer than 2 weeks
This is quite a long time for a cough, so if you are still coughing after 2 weeks, check with your doctor that there are not any serious underlying conditions like asthma, pneumonia, or bronchitis. Depending on the cause of your cough, your doctor might then prescribe antibiotics or other medications to help your body fight off infections.
Coughing up blood
This can be a terrifying thing to see. It is usually only seen in serious conditions or with very bad coughs. Coughing up blood, or hemoptysis, to give it its medical name, can be a sign of a serious medical condition, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis, cancer, or heart failure. It should absolutely not be ignored.
Temperature matters! Be aware of it.
If you are feverish and are consistently reaching high temperature levels that are resistant to home remedies and OTC meds, you should consult your doctor and get a proper diagnosis.
Many people with a persistent cough may also experience chest pain. It’s important to take the time to understand why this is happening, as it could be a sign of something serious.
In line with your cough, it could be a viral infection, but it may also indicate a more serious underlying medical condition. The key is to get checked.
Shortness of breath
Some coughs have a major impact on breathing. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that can leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
To aid in the symptom, try first of all to breathe as deeply as you can, though do it gently and progressively. Then hold your breath and then gently release the air in your lungs. Doing this at regular intervals can actually help control your breathing and make it likelier you will be less breathless as the day goes on.
However, if the breathlessness continues, you must speak with a doctor. Even with a bad cough, you should not be unduly short of breath. This indicates that something more significant is going on that you need to try to get help to fight off.
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