Whether it’s a cold, flu, allergies or coronavirus, many of us might be facing a bout of coughing.
Alcohol and narcotics are not recommended to cure your cough and the FDA has urged children under 2 years of age to not be given any kind of cough and cold product that contains a decongestant or antihistamine.
So if you or your child cannot get rid of a cough, what can you do? Here’s the breakdown…..
Why do we cough?
Coughs are actually a brilliant defense mechanism designed to spew out unwanted irritants that make it to our respiratory tree. Its lining has sensory neurons, that when triggered, tell the brain to induce a mechanism that will help clear the airway. This can, simplistically stated, include a cough but also immune cells mobilized to fight possible infection or heal inflammation. If the act of mechanically coughing irritates the respiratory tree, you may cough more. Likewise, if inflammatory cells produce excess mucous, this could cause a cycle of continued coughing.
What causes a cough?
We’re well aware that infections caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi can cause coughs. But the following need to also be considered.
- GERD – Gastroesophageal reflux disease – the acid that is refluxing out of the stomach and into the esophagus can, while lying down sleeping, makes its way up into the respiratory tree, irritating the lungs
- Medications – such as ACE inhibitors used for high blood pressure – cause accumulation of bradykinin which can induce coughing
- Pollution – including dust, pollen, and smoke
- Chemicals – such as household products who’s aerosol irritate the lung lining
- Mold spores
- Cold weather
- Post nasal drip
- Lung conditions – such as asthma, sarcoidosis, emphysema
- Heart conditions – such a heart failure
- Psychological coughing – such as a tic
What can cure a cough?
We don’t actually “cure” the cough, because remember, it’s a well received defense mechanism. But to control the cough requires us knowing why you’re coughing in the first place.
If one has pneumonia, antibiotics will be needed to kill the bacteria causing the lung infection.
If one has GERD, medications that decrease acid production and secretion may be required.
If its due to allergies, avoidance of the allergen and medications such as antihistamines, or corticosteroids might be utilized.
If it’s a tumor, then surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy may be necessary.
But for the common viral nagging cough that many of us are dealing with this season, here is what we recommend:
Whether its holding your head over a pot on the stove, humidifier, vaporizer or steam shower, the cough reflex subsides and the moisture helps decrease inflammation.
Mucous thickens when water content is low, so loosening it up with hydration will make it less irritating. A dry throat doesn’t do us any good either so keep your fluids up.
Studies have found this to be an effective cough suppressant. Add it to some warm water, lemon juice or tea and your throat will be soothed as well. Avoid in children under one year of age.
Menthol cough drops work by causing a local anesthetic effect on the back of the throat, temporarily decreasing irritation.
Cough suppressants and expectorants
Decrease the cough reflex and thin the mucous respectively. One, however, should not self treat using these chronically without having their cough evaluated first.
Natural remedies (without much scientific evidence) such as Peppermint, Thyme, Eucalyptus, Licorice, Ginger may also provide some relief.
Yes chocolate. This yummy treat has theobromine, which can suppress cough, and a study in late 2015 found it to work better than codeine.
What about alcohol and narcotics for cough?
These are not medically recommended, however, many people choose to self-medicate with alcohol and pain pills to control their cough. Here’s why. Older cough syrups used to contain alcohol, as alcohol may dry up mucous, and induce sleep which may lessen the cough. Narcotics decrease respiratory drive and provide analgesia which also decreases the cough reflex. But alcohol is a no no as it can increase acid reflux, worsening cough, and narcotics are a bad idea as they decrease respiratory drive. However, many prescription cough medications do include codeine and are used when the cough is severe. However, the FDA does not recommend use of opioid containing cough medicine in those under the age of 18.