Good tips for treating an annoying cough
GAINING an understanding of why coughs happen and how you can manage them, can help you live a healthier, happier life.
Your cough is a reflex mechanism that is trying to clear the lungs of an irritant through a forced burst of air. It's not normal says medical doctor and professor of health science at RMIT, Professor Marc Cohen.
"If you are healthy, you shouldn't be coughing," Professor Cohen said. "If you have a cough as part of your everyday life, there's something going on; that's your body saying there is something going on with your body's respiratory system."
A cough can be a wet or dry cough depending on the irritant. The irritant could a build-up of mucus or "infective agents", or it could be simply smoke or dust. Asthma is another cause of coughing.
"Some blood pressure medications can also cause a cough," Professor Cohen said.
With a wet, or productive cough, something comes up with it. "A chesty cough is often caused by a cold or a mild illness, or they can indicate a more severe infection like an influenza or an infection," Professor Cohen said. "The quality and type of mucus can give you an indication as well as the symptoms. Any cough that is associated with a fever or shivers or shakes, that is a very serious sign. It will usually indicate pneumonia and needs to be attended to very quickly.
"Whereas if you are coughing up a bit of mucus, that can be a chronic thing for smokers. With smokers, normally there is these little hairs that line your airways, called cilia. Those hairs move mucus up and swallow it automatically. But if you smoke, those cilia hairs, which are self-cleaning, get destroyed. So, your airways no longer self-clean, so you have to clean them out physically by coughing."
If you can have a dry cough, it's less likely that it will be associated with a serious infection. But, if there are associated symptoms or it has been going on for several weeks or longer, then you should seek medical advice.
Most coughs may only last a few weeks and aren't too serious. But, if they do, there are some natural remedies to give you relief which can be purchased from health food stores and supermarkets.
- Steam inhalation with a drop of eucalyptus oil - this helps open your airways and relieve mucus.
- Ivy leaf extract - the most common is sold as Prospan and comes in liquid, lozenger or droplet.
- Manuka honey - avoid putting it on boiling water as it could deactivate some of the living enzymes in the honey. It is better to use a medicinal honey.
- Salt - a teaspoon mixed with a glass of warm water and gargle.
- Zinc tablets which help with managing a cold.
- Thyme, sage, marshmallow extract or liquorice root tea - gargle or drink.
- If making a tea out of the woody part of a plant, then you need to boil it to get the medicinal compounds into the water.
No matter what type of cough you have, cover your mouth to protect others around you. "And, be aware of what else is going on in your body at the same time, like aches and pains or a rash," Professor Cohen said. "Just note them as they might say something more serious is going on."