We all know what coughing is and how much of a sore thing a bad cough can be. Coughs can range from the mild little type of ‘tickling cough’ that can be a nuisance, right through a full throated highly painful cough that is part of what is possibly a major infection.
In some cases, coughing can be severely disabling of daily life and leave you feeling wretched. Swallowing is difficult and you wince every time you have to drink or swallow.
Coughing is a natural reflex
The truth is that coughing is actually a natural reflex. We humans are not the only animals to cough! It is an action that helps keep your lungs and airways clear, though at the time it can be painful as it does so.
These reflex actions, or involuntary bodily responses, as they are sometimes called, are 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 may not alleviate the symptoms of coughing to know that it is actually trying to help your body, but it is perhaps useful to know that it is a perfectly natural mechanism the body uses to aid another part of its operations.
Usually coughing is the response of an immediate tigger. Typically, a cough will have been caused by allergens, dust, pollen or smoke. That said, often a cough is part of a genuinely significant viral or bacterial infection and it needs medication.
It can be important to identify potential causes, as this affects the ways of treating and handling our coughing.
In some cases, for example, coughing may indicate a more serious medical condition, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is a serious situation and you need to make sure that if you have a persistent cough you see a doctor or medical service.
Typically, if you have had a persistent cough for over two weeks, you should have your throat examined by a doctor to check that there is no substantive lung or breathing issue of which the cough is a symptom.
However, if the coughing is mild and has only lasted a few days, then it may just be from something simple like a minor cold. In this case, rest, mild medication and/or home remedies should be enough to send it on its way.
Natural Methods of Cough Suppression
Drinking plenty of fluids when you are suffering from a cough is essential, as this helps to thin out mucus in the throat and nasal passages. Mucus is often why you are coughing, as the body is trying to expel it from your respiratory system.
Hydration also helps to flush out any bacteria or other microbes that might be causing your coughing, another useful aid to getting better sooner. Water is often a good choice, but herbal teas and even warm but light soups or broths can also help.
In addition, almost any drink with lemon, ginger, honey or camomile will assist your cough and ensure you make progress. It won’t be instant, but it will be progressively helpful.
Try inhaling steam or using a humidifier to loosen phlegm and ease coughing
The important thing when you have a cough is to get rid of phlegm as soon as possible, and steaming acts to release and loosen phlegm in the throat. It pushes forward the body’s natural processes of clearing out impediments to breathing smoothly again so that respiratory secretions can be expelled more quickly and more smoothly.
Important, too, is steaming’s function as a muscle relaxant. It provides relief from muscle tension in the throat. The other useful thing about this approach is that it can be carried out at home or at work. We recommend that you steam two or three times a day. Only a couple of minutes of steaming can be enough to stimulate the body into action, so it need not be a cumbersome process.
Gargling is another easy and portable way of aiding recovery from coughing. Usually, gargling with something as simple as salt water can be efficacious, and often it is the cheapest possible way to address a sore throat or cough.
You can also use an over-the-counter aid like a throat lozenge to reduce inflammation and numb the throat, but take advice, as some of these are merely sugar sweets, while others have active ingredients.
The effect of each of these approaches is to break up the mucus in your throat, soothing the irritation that leads to coughing. A saltwater solution, which of course also has antiseptic properties from the salt, can be made with about half a teaspoon of salt with a cupful of warm – but not hot – water.
Gargling itself can take some practice, as you may find you gag as you keep the water in your throat and avoid it being swallowed, but it is worth persevering, as it can genuinely help. Usually around 6-8 seconds per gargle will suffice for each session. Only a little water is required for each gargle, so do not make it too hard on yourself by taking in too much water, especially at first.
Lozenges also work to reduce the inflammation, and typically contain ingredients such as menthol and eucalyptus that provide relief. That said, if you have a more robust cough, you may need something stronger, so look for lozenges with active ingredients and take advice from your pharmacist.
There is plentiful evidence that over the counter medicines work. They can be excellent solutions to a cough. Their potency varies, so make sure you are taking the one most relevant for your symptoms and their severity, but whether it is to alleviate a tickling cough or provide relief for a more substantial infection in the throat, many of the OTC meds available are good.
Look for medicines that do the following –
- Break up mucus
- Relieve pain when swallowing
- Reduce inflammation in the throat
- Clear your nasal passages and throat
- Soothe your throat
- Help you breathe more easily
You may need to take a selection of complementary tablets to ensure maximum relief, so ask your pharmacist for advice.
Menthol and OIls
The use of menthol or oils is a centuries long method of aiding healing.
Menthol is a minor miracle worker, as it almost immediately makes you feel you can breathe more easily. There are multiple ways of using menthol, whether on a mentholated stick for your nostrils, or by ingesting it in a sweet or syrup.
In addition, you can use it as a vapor rub, and there are some very well known brands of vapor rub available. Always keep one at home handy!
Essential oils, such as peppermint, lavender and some citrus oils can also aid in the breaking up of mucus and in providing a feeling of relief. Their scent is also a great boon when you are feeling low, as they smell fabulous!
More serious infections will likely require a doctor’s advice. If OTC treatments don’t work, medications such as antibiotics, steroids, and bronchodilators may be necessary, and these are only available from a doctor or professional health service.
Antibiotics function by attacking bacteria in your respiratory system, while steroids can help reduce any swelling and inflammation that could be causing your cough. Bronchodilators, which you may not have heard of, are another form of meds, and they can often help open up constricted airways, which releases pressure and therefore helps to stop a cough.
This area also needs a doctor’s consideration. They may realize you have a proneness to coughs due to factors such as allergies, lifestyle habits, such as smoking, or even your working environment, which may be in a polluted area with many irritants.
They may decide you need an antihistamine, or potentially an inhaler. If you are asthmatic and develop coughs, you need to be very careful to have the right inhaler with you.
Natural methods of combating coughing, such as drinking tea with honey, taking steam inhalations, or using essential oils may also be recommended by a doctor, and sometime when we have a doctor recommend to us a form of behavior, we are more likely to act on it, so if you have a serious cough, talk to your doctor and see what they say.
Quit bad habits!
There is not much point taking meds for a cough and then carrying on smoking! You may need to look at your lifestyle and realize that what you are doing is actively promoting the likelihood of a cough. This can be tough psychologically, but the alternative is that you carry on getting less healthy and remain prone to being unwell with avoidable symptoms!
Your doctor – or advice online on the site here – can help provide strategies for quitting smoking or lowering your susceptibility to pollution.
Avoid exposure to irritants and allergens
Do you ever find yourself coughing uncontrollably, and you can’t seem to get it to stop? If so, it’s important to recognize that there are certain things around you that may be driving or worsening your cough. Avoiding exposure to irritants and allergens is key.
Common sources of irritants and allergens are smoke in the air, dust, pet food and straw, animals, mold in a damp room, and also chemical fumes from cleaning products. These can all be things we fail to register as possible causes of a cough, but each of these may be in our lives.
Many people lower their household risks and improve the quality of their lives by investing in air filters for your home or workplace. You could also benefit from using damp cloths to clean surfaces instead of chemical-laden sprays and wipes. Doing this can help limit irritation and keep your lungs healthy.
Do not underestimate how many chemicals are in the products we use. Keeping your home life as free from these as possible can aid some cough sufferers and help those with respiratory issues.
Wear a mask when outdoors
After covid, we all know about masks! Wearing a mask is perhaps a good way of lowering your direct exposure to some irritants, especially traffic fumes. You may also find it a polite thing to do if you have a cough, as it will stop the cough being spread so easily..
Wash hands frequently and avoid touching your face
This is perennial good advice for hygiene best practice. The hands pick up so many bacteria every day, that we need to make sure they are clean. Just think of where they go and what they have to touch! Wash them regularly.
Further good hygiene
In addition to washing your hands and avoiding undue contact with your face, you may wish to build in regular routines to ensure you wipe down commonly used surfaces, such as keyboard, door handles, tables, bathroom surfaces, and that you regularly change linen, especially if you have been ill for a while with a bad cough.
If you take common sense precautions and do so in a disciplined and regular manner, you will find these habits make illness in the future less likely. They won’t make it impossible that you get another cough, but they will certainly help you protect yourself.
Want to talk to a Doctor online?
Whether you have concerns about symptoms discussed in this article or your general health, trained Doctors have the answers!