A cough can be irritating, but most of the time, it serves the purpose of clearing the airways of some kind of irritant or mucus. Coughs are generally divided into two categories, dry or productive. Dry coughs are usually caused by exposure to airborne irritants such as smoke, air pollution or pollen and are called such because a dry cough produces no phlegm or expectorants. A productive cough does produce phlegm and is typically indicative of airway obstructions of some type.
Cough relief can be found in the form of a variety of over the counter (OTC) medications, but there are also a number of natural cough treatments you can try to relieve your symptoms. Coughing is the means by which your lungs are cleared of irritants and mucus and should typically not be suppressed. Drinking plenty of fluids can help thin the cough mucus secretions, making it easier for you to expel them from your airways. Hot tea with lemon and honey can relieve the sore throat often associated with excessive coughing. Sleeping with your head elevated can help relieve coughing associated with post-nasal drip.
When dealing with a cough in children, it is almost always best to treat with natural cough remedies whenever possible. Always consult a physician before giving your child any OTC medications, as some are not meant for use in young children. Although treatment of cough in children is generally not recommended, your physican may presribe a mild antibiotic or inhaled cough treatment if your child has had a chronic cough that is not responding to other treatments.
Determining what is causing your cough is the first step in deciding which cough remedies are appropriate for you. If the cough is not disruptive and not accompanied by other symptoms such as a high fever or vomiting, you can try treating it with OTC medications, like cough suppressants or cough drops. Neither has been shown to be particularly effective but can bring short term cough relief, allowing you to go about your daily business or get a good night’s rest.
If an OTC cough suppressant does not help, your doctor may want to examine you for other causes of your cough. A cough caused by allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as post nasal drip, can be relieved through nasal sprays and antihistamines that prevent the allergic reaction causing the drainage. Cough mucus can be a sign of a viral or bacterial respiratory infection, which may require prescription medication to be cleared. Other causes of cough, such as acid reflux or asthma, need further investigation by your doctor. Although not as common, a chronic, persistent cough with no other symptoms could also indicate the presence of lung cancer.
Rarely, a cough is indicative of a serious emergency. If a person is coughing up blood or having difficulty breathing while coughing, you should seek medical assistance right away. Likewise, if a person suffering from a cough suddenly spikes a fever, complains of chest pain or appears drowsy, disoriented or confused, you should get emergency help. Try to identify what medications the person has taken so you can provide that information to emergency personnel.
A cough is most commonly associated with a cold or the flu, but it may have other causes, such as allergic rhinitis or acid reflux. Knowing what is triggering your cough is the first step in determining an effective cough treatment. We have answers to all your questions about coughs and their causes, along with a number of treatment tips and advice that will help get you over the cough and back on your feet.