Why do we cough?
Coughing is not considered as an illness in itself, but rather a symptom of something else going on in the body. Most often it is just the body's way of removing something from the system that is causing irritation. It is also the natural reaction of the body to remove mucous from the lungs in order to clear the airways. However, sometimes a cough can be an indication of a condition that needs addressing, whether that be a simple cold or flu, or a more serious illness.
Since it is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition, the type of cough you have can be used to evaluate the real cause to know the best treatment option to use.
What are the types and causes of coughing?
There are two basic types of cough - productive and unproductive cough.
Productive Cough produces phlegm or mucous. The mucous may either have drained down to the back of the throat from the nose or it may have come up from the lungs. The way to deal with productive cough is not to suppress it since it clears the lungs of mucous. Some of the causes of productive cough are:
Common cold - productive cough is a normal reaction of this particular illness. It is often triggered by the mucous that drains down to the back of the throat.
More serious infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis or tuberculosis
Chronic lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is usually caused by stomach acid going up the esophagus.
Nasal discharge or postnasal drip
Smoking or other tobacco use
Non-productive cough on the other hand is dry and does not produce sputum. This may develop toward the end of a cold or after a person gets exposed to an irritant. This can either be dust or smoke. The following are some of the causes:
Viral illnesses - towards the tail end of a common cold, a dry cough may develop, which often gets worse at night.
Bronchospasm - this happens particularly at night
Allergies - dry cough as a symptom of allergic rhinitis
Medicines called ACE inhibitors
Exposure to dust, fumes and chemicals in your work environment
Blockage of the airways, either by inhaled object or food that blocked the throat.
How do you know when your cough requires medical attention?
You should seek immediate medical care if:
- Your cough is accompanied by blood.
- You have suddenly developed difficulty breathing.
- You have developed high fever.
- You have developed rashes.
Monitor the following changes and see your doctor for checkups if:
- Your coughing gets deeper or more frequent, especially if you have noticed a change in the amount or colour of your mucous.
- You have developed additional symptoms; such as: sore throat, earache, sinus pain
- Your condition gets worse.
There are basically 2 types of preparations which help to alleviate a cough: expectorant and suppressant. These may come either in cough syrup or tablet form.
Expectorants helps thin the mucous to make it easier to cough it out. This is best when you have a productive cough. Drinking plenty of water will also help in thinning out mucous. Guaifenesin is an effective expectorant used as active ingredient in cough preparations. Make sure to look for it in a cough medicine.
Suppressants control or suppress the cough reflex. These work best for dry, hacking coughs that keep you awake. Use suppressants with caution, as they do suppress the natural and helpful job that coughing performs in the body. This is especially true for those who suffer from asthma and other forms of lung diseases where coughing will help a lot. It is important to cough up the phlegm as this prevents developing bacterial infections. However, you may need to take suppressants if you are finding it difficult to rest or sleep because of coughing. Always talk to your health practitioner to get the right advice for you.
What are some home remedies and tips for dealing with a cough?
Make sure to drink plenty of fluids as this help thin secretions and soothe an irritated throat. If you have a dry hacking cough, you may take honey in hot water, tea or lemon juice.
Put an extra pillow under your head to make it a little elevated. This will help to ease dry cough.
Take cough drops which are helpful in soothing an irritated throat.
Use a humidifier with plain water to help add moisture to air.
Quit smoking and do not use other forms of tobacco.
Avoid irritants like smoke, dust and other pollutants. If you cannot avoid entirely, use a facial mask. Page updated 06/04/18 12:47:36 p.m.