Putting up with a cough can be hard work. More than just a nuisance, it can be exhausting, draining, stressful, physically uncomfortable and at times downright painful. Even worse, coughing at night prevents you from getting much-needed sleep, draining you even further – as well as affecting your sleeping partner.
If you are keen to know how to get rid of a cough, the good news is that in most cases, coughs that are not allergy related clear up on their own after a few weeks. In the interim, there are many cough remedies to ease the symptoms. Allergy related coughs do need to be treated differently, but these can also be successfully managed.
A cough can be caused by many different things. In this article we will help you to understand the different types of coughs and, as long as you know the cause of your cough, give you examples of cough remedies to help treat and give you effective cough relief. If you’ve had your cough for more than a couple of weeks, though, and it is not improving, we recommend you go to your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Coughs are usually categorised as dry coughs or chesty coughs and if they have been with you for more than three or four weeks, either category is described as a persistent cough. Let’s have a look at the differences.
Dry coughs are also known as tickly coughs or non-productive coughs, as they don’t produce phlegm. Usually, they are caused by an infection such as a flu or cold virus. At other times, atmospheric pollutants, or allergens, can tickle the back of the throat, causing a dry cough. Examples of allergens include:
Non-productive coughs can linger, and be present when the rest of you is feeling quite well. You simply have an irritating, tickly persistent cough, with the irritation stemming from either the chest or the throat.
Other medical or psychological conditions can also cause a cough – in fact, a lot of persistent coughs or dry coughs can be psychosomatic (caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as stress). Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) can also be a contributor, as the acid in the stomach travels up the back of the throat and into the respiratory tract, causing irritation and coughing. In addition, some medications may even cause a dry cough.
It’s important to rule out other more serious conditions where a dry cough is symptomatic. These include cancer, asthma, heart disease, whooping cough (pertussis) or tuberculosis. If your dry cough is also a persistent cough, and you are unsure of the cause, again, we recommend that you see your doctor.
A chesty cough is an informal name given to a wet, heavy cough. It is called a productive cough because it produces phlegm. Usually, chesty coughs are the result of a virus, so antibiotics have little effect. However, if a secondary infection in the chest develops, antibiotics may be required. Stay in close contact with your doctor so that your condition can be reviewed and treated accordingly.
If you have a persistent cough you could be coughing to expel microbes, allergens, mucus or any other foreign particles in your respiratory tract to protect your lungs from contamination or inflammation. Sometimes a persistent cough develops when the air is simply too cold.
For smokers, in particular, a persistent cough can ring alarm bells, because the cough may be due to lung cancer or other sinister conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia or emphysema. Therefore, if you smoke and have a persistent cough, it’s imperative that you seek a medical diagnosis.
For non-smokers with a long-lasting cough, the causes are usually not life-threatening, but they can be distressing. Mostly, a non-smoker’s persistent cough is caused by any of the following:
Occasionally, you may be prescribed or recommended a cough medicine for the treatment of persistent cough. However, cough medicines are not as commonly prescribed as they used to be. Cough medicines usually sit in one of four different categories:
Cough expectorants – are designed to help loosen the mucus in your respiratory tract so that you can cough it up and clear it.
Cough suppressants – are designed to inhibit the body’s urge to cough. However, cough suppressants may cause unwelcome side-effects such as drowsiness, nausea, vomiting or constipation. They are also generally not recommended for children under 11 years of age. There is little evidence to suggest that cough suppressants are any more effective than home remedies, though, and they are not suitable for everyone.
Mucolytics - these medicines make it easier for your body to cough up mucus. They are often used for long-term conditions such as bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Demulcents– these medicines are cough syrups that form a protective layer around the throat, helping to suppress the urge to cough.
While there is some evidence that cough medicines may reduce the intensity or frequency of coughing, they really have no effect on the duration of the cough. Choosing to use cough medicines for what may only be minor cough relief is entirely up to the individual.
If you have a persistent cough, you may wish to try a short dose of pharmaceutical cough medicine as described above, or you may try a simple but effective home remedy for cough to help make life more comfortable.
Hot showers can help enormously (with steam dislodging the mucus) for those suffering from flu or cold and a chesty cough. A great natural cough remedy, hot showers are also useful for those with allergies, dry cough, post infection cough or persistent coughs, as the heat and moisture help to soothe the respiratory tract.
Another great home remedy for cough is the classic hot drink. Hot drinks such as hot water with ginger, honey and lemon, or herbal teas may also be very soothing, particularly if you have an annoying tickle in the pharynx. It’s also thought that as these drinks are emotionally calming, they help calm nervous reflexes, too.
If your cough is not allergy related, it is likely that it will clear up on its own within a few weeks. In this time, try to get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids and, if required, take pain and fever relief like paracetamol. For persistent cough, particularly coughing at night, you might wish to consider a salt therapy air purifier.
If allergies are the cause of your cough, make sure you take steps to allergy-proof your home, eliminating as much dust and dander from your home as possible. A salt therapy air purifier can quietly purify the air in your room each night when you sleep and is highly recommended if you are coughing at night or have a cough caused by allergy.
More than just an air purifier, a salt therapy device emits tiny salt particles into the air which help to cleanse the airways and expel mucous from the lungs and airways. A 100% natural cough remedy, it provides excellent cough relief and has assisted thousands of Australians breathe more easily and get a better night’s sleep. See the testimonial letter below for evidence about how a salt therapy device has helped people with their annoying and persistent coughing.
We hope that you find this information useful and that some of these gentle, natural solutions can give you some cough relief. Once again, if your cough has lasted for several weeks and is not improving, do seek the advice of your medical practitioner.