A cough is a reflex action. It’s our body’s way of trying to clear out something that’s irritating our airways - such as inhaled dust or mucus. There are various types of coughs but the majority are caused by a simple viral infection such as a cold. Coughs can be dry or chesty.
- Tickle in Throat
- Bringing up Phlegm
What causes a cough?
Dry coughs feel like a constant tickle in the throat. They occur because your airways have become swollen. Your brain thinks the inflammation is a foreign object so keeps trying to cough it up.
Chesty coughs usually produce phlegm (mucus). It’s sometimes called ‘a productive cough’ as each cough actually helps you to clear the phlegm from your airways.
Persistent coughs in adults may be caused by an underlying medical condition or from smoking. In children a continuous cough may indicate a more serious respiratory tract infection such as whooping cough.
How to treat a cough
- If a cough is caused by a viral infection (like the common cold) then it can’t be cured with medication but will go by itself once your immune system has defeated the virus.
- Cough medicines cannot cure coughs but they may relieve symptoms. They are not recommended for children under six who should be given a warm lemon and honey drink or a simple cough syrup containing glycerol or honey instead.
- Cough suppressants, such as pholcodine, dextromethorphan and antihistamines, act on the brain to hold back the cough reflex and are suitable for dry coughs.
- Cough expectorants are suitable for chesty coughs as they help bring up phlegm. They include: Guaiphenesin, Ammonium chloride, Squill, Sodium citrate and Ipecacuanha.
- Occasionally a secondary bacterial infection develops which can lead to a more serious condition developing such as pneumonia. Symptoms can include shallow breathing, wheezing and coughing up yellow, green, brownish or blood-stained phlegm.
- If a cough lasts for longer than eight weeks it is said to be ‘chronic’. Most coughs clear up within two weeks.
- Consult your GP if a cough has lasted for over two weeks or is getting worse.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
Honey can help as it coats the throat to relieve irritation. You can add this to a drink with some warm lemon.