With our daily work and school routines, there’s no simple means of avoiding unwanted viruses and bacteria that cause runny noses, wet coughs and nagging dry coughs
When a nasty wet cough or niggling dry cough does hit, you can recover faster and feel better if you understand your symptoms.
Why am I coughing?
A cough is a protective reflex, which helps to clear our airways from foreign particles, irritants, fluids and germs. There are different types of coughs, which have varying underlying causes and originate from different parts of our bodies. Determining the type of cough you have and where it is coming from will help point to the underlying cause and assist you with getting the right treatment.
Is it wet or dry?
A cough can be classified by its duration, quality, character and timing. The quality of a cough refers to whether it is dry or wet.
- A non-productive or dry cough doesn’t produce mucous and is frequently triggered by inflammation or irritation of the respiratory tract. Common causes include a virus, pollution, allergy or asthma. Dry coughs aren’t always harmless and if this symptom persists for more than three weeks, visit to your local doctor.
- A productive or wet cough results from excess mucous production in the nasal passages, airways or lungs. Causes of a wet cough include invasion of these areas by a virus or bacteria, which results in sinus infection, bronchitis or pneumonia. Coughing is our body’s way of trying to protect our lungs and get rid of these unwanted germs. Coughing can be persistent in certain conditions such as chronic bronchitis and bronchiectasis, where there is an underlying abnormality of the lung or airways.
What can I do for my cough?
Simple measures such as using a cool mist humidifier, saline nose drops, nasal suctioning for infants as well as drinking plenty of liquids to stay well hydrated, can provide some relief from coughs. At times, you may need to seek the assistance of the family doctor or pharmacy to help understand the symptoms and select the most appropriate treatment for you. There are essentially four main types of cough medications.
- Cough suppressants block the cough reflex. Side effects can vary from dizziness, drowsiness, headache, nausea and constipation. Suppressing the cough reflex may, in fact, be harmful if there is a wet cough. Dr Marlin McKay, a General Practitioner at Goldman Medical Centre states that cough suppressants “may be harmful (and) make no difference to outcomes”.
- Expectorants increase the amount of secretion from the airways to make it easier to cough up mucous and can be used for wet coughs.
- Demulcents contain ingredients like honey and lemon, which can be soothing, but there is no evidence for their efficacy.
- Mucolytics break the bonds in mucous resulting in thinner secretions, making it easier to move these out of the lungs, airways or sinuses and have been shown to decrease cough in children over the age of two. Dr Marlin adds that the “mechanism of action of mucolytics is safer – loosening mucous rather than stopping the cough.” Some are available in an effervescent tablet form, which make them easier to administer, and a quick and effective treatment method (e.g. ACC 200, Mucofizz and Solmucol).
Most cough syrups are available over the counter and have varied recommendations regarding use in children. It’s important to seek medical advice if symptoms continue for more than three weeks or if there is shortness of breath, chest pain, breathing difficulties, coughing up blood or other worrying symptoms, such as weight loss, a change in the voice or lumps in the neck. Always talk to a doctor or pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medications if you suffer from chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.
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Source: Bespoke Communications. Image: Shutterstock