Coughing is a natural reaction to irritants and infections but that does not keep it from being annoying. Treating a cough is best done by treating the root cause, but sometimes that takes time and treating the symptom itself can be necessary and helpful.
When possible, the best plan is prevention. Staying away from people who are sick, reducing stress, keeping hydrated, getting enough sleep, cleaning surface areas of counters, phones, toys, doorknobs, light switches, etc., regular handwashing, and boosting the immune system can all help with not getting a cough. In the case of allergens, reducing exposure can assist, or allergy shots may be good prevention.
A cough can be dry or productive; the latter means that the cough is resulting in something exiting the lungs, usually mucus or phlegm. Productive, or wet, coughs are the better of the two; the coughs are doing something the body needs to get better and clear things out. They are often due to a virus. Dry coughs may be from stress, reflux, croup, a throat irritation, or from some viral infections.
An allergic reaction to such environmental things like dust, smoke, pollen, andpet dander can cause a dry cough.
Because asthma affects the lungs, causing bronchial spasms. These make it difficult to breathe and often cause coughing.
Usually caused by a virus, bronchitis results from inflamed mucous membranes.
Excess mucous in the lungs is known as congestion. This can be caused by a variety of maladies and is often a symptom of a cold or flu.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which makes breathing difficult, may produce clear mucous when coughing. Breathing difficulty and shortness of breath is more pronounced after exertion in most people.
Usually seen in small children, a croup cough is caused by inflammation of the trachea and larynx, usually caused by infection.
- Cystic fibrosis
Caused by heredity, this disorder increases thick mucous in the body, including pancreas, intestines, and lungs.
- Inhaling dust or saliva
Most people have experienced a coughing fit due to accidentally inhaling saliva or walking through a cloud of dust. This sort of coughing is generally short-lived but is still unpleasant.
An inflammation of the lungs, pneumonia is a result of infection by either bacteria or virus and is characterized by pus-filled air sacs. It may affect one or both lungs.
Many viruses include a cough as a symptom.
- Whooping cough
Pertussis is a childhood bacterial disease that causes coughing fits with the breath between coughs sounding like a whoop.
Found in pineapple, this enzyme has been found to be a cough suppressant which also works by loosening mucous in the throat.
Eucalyptus oil can be used topically or as aromatherapy to ease respiratory issues and the leaves can be used to make a soothing tea, which can be even more effective with the addition of honey and lemon.
Well known as an all-around antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial substance, garlic has also been found to be helpful in quelling a cough while boosting the immune system.
The anti-inflammatory action of ginger can ease inflamed bronchial passageways. This can be done by steeping fresh slices of ginger root in hot water for several minutes, then sweetening to taste with honey or adding a bit of lemon to tame the flavor.
Long known as an excellent cough treatment, honey (especially when combined with lemon in a hot beverage such as tea) has been shown to soothe a cough for people over a year old.
Increasing humidity in the air being breathed can help to lessen a cough caused by air that is too dry. Especially at night, a humidifier can help thin mucous which allows the body to move it out of the lungs naturally.
- Immune system boosters
Things like vitamins A, B, C, D, and zinc, as well as other herbal preparations, provide antioxidants or other essential nutrients that assist the immune system in its goal to keep the body healthy.
It tastes good and contains a lot of vitamin C. Lemon also has a lot of natural acid that can help to break up mucous in the throat.
Real licorice, not the licorice-flavored candy or the other flavors of “licorice” that are only a similar texture, contains an enzyme called glycyrrhizin which sooths inflammation. Licorice root can be steeped to make a hot tea or taken in a lozenge. It should not be used by those who are taking steroids or those who have kidney disorders.
Especially hot liquids are soothing to an inflamed throat. Some tasty hot beverages include clear broth, hot tea, hot water, heated fruit juices (try orange or lemon). Staying hydrated is an important part of health, as dehydration can make everything else worse.
- Marshmallow root
Not the sweet, puffy candies, but the plant known as marshmallow has a root that produces mucilage that helps to coat the throat and soothe it. Adding thyme and making it into a syrup provides a treatment that is quite effective.
- Mustard paste
A plaster made from mustard, flour, and water (1:4 mustard:flour and enough hot water to make a thick paste) spread on a washcloth and laid on a chest prepared with a thin layer of olive oil has helped many with coughing and congestion. If the plaster feels like it is burning, remove it immediately; otherwise, leave it on until it cools.
Parsley limits excess mucous production and this effect can be achieved by chewing on the leaves. A tea made from parsley leaves can also help when ingested regularly.
Whole peppercorns boiled in 8 ounces of water until there is only 4 ounces, cooled and with the peppercorns removed then mixing the liquid with a spoonful of honey and taken in small sips will usually help to stop a dry cough in a few hours, and heal it in a couple days.
Peppermint is a source of menthol, which is known to work as a soother and a decongestant. Mix it with eucalyptus for a potent cough suppressant. Peppermint can also be used in a bath or as a steam treatment.
Probiotics work to balance naturally occurring bacteria in the digestive system. This balance helps the body’s immune system to work more effectively to fight off unwelcome bacteria and viruses.
- Reflux retardants
Because acid reflux can cause irritation in the throat that causes a cough, solving a reflux problem will aid in solving a dry cough that is caused by it. The best way to take care of a reflux problem is to change the diet to avoid trigger foods, which are different for everyone. Determining which foods trigger a reflux response will take time but finding out what they are will help to avoid them. Some common ones include alcohol, chocolate, coffee or other caffeinated beverages, citrus, fatty foods including fried things, garlic, onions, spices, mint, and tomatoes.
- Salt water
Gargling with salt water will kill some of the microorganisms in the throat that may be causing a cough and will also have a soothing effect on a scratchy throat.
- Slippery elm
The bark of the slippery elm makes a soothing tea due to its high level of mucilage.
The heat and humidity of steam can have a soothing and healing effect on the throat and entire respiratory system. The two best methods of introducing steam is through a bath or shower or through a steam treatment in which a towel is placed over the head which is over a pot or kettle of very hot water. There are a variety of essential oils and herbal leaves or powders that can be added to the bath or kettle to add medication and soothing elements to the steam.
Used in a cough syrup or tea, thyme is often used to sooth a cough, sore throat, and bronchitis, as well as assisting with digestion. Thyme is rich in antioxidants, as well.
Call a Doctor If…
A cough is usually just an annoyance; however, there are times when it is a sign of something more. If any of the following apply, contact a physician as soon as possible:
- …coughing expels blood.
- …coughing expels nasty smelling phlegm that is green or yellow.
- …coughing is accompanied by fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit or fever that lasts more than three days.
- …coughing is accompanied by weakness.
- …it is difficult to breathe.