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What is a Cough?
Although it may not seem like it, a cough is a protective action by the body in healthy individuals. A cough is an involuntary reflex (something which we cannot help) that is initiated by two classes of nerves with endings in the lungs.
Coughing is an action the body takes to get rid of substances irritating the air passages, and a cough is usually started to clear a buildup of phlegm (mucus) in the trachea. When a person coughs, air may move through this passage at up to 300 MPH.
What Causes a Cough?
If an individual is a non-smoker and has a normal chest X-ray, the most likely causes of a persistent cough are asthma, heartburn, or post-nasal drip. Other causes of chronic cough include chronic bronchitis and side effects from certain conventional medications such as ACE inhibitors. A cough can also be a symptom of an upper respiratory infection or bronchitis, pneumonia, or tuberculosis.
Individuals who smoke often have what is referred to as a smoker's cough, a loud, hacking cough that often results in the expiration of phlegm. It is always advised that individuals stop smoking in a natural way, both to alleviate smoker’s cough and live a healthier life. Coughs in children are common, and usually accompany many of the normal childhood illnesses such as flu and bronchitis.
Coughing can also be triggered by food going down the wrong pipe, and when this occurs the epiglottis has not done its job properly in keeping food out of the trachea.
Help for a Cough
A cough that continues for several days or increases in severity warrants a visit to a physician or health care practitioner to rule out other diseases. If a cough lasts for more than three weeks, multiple causes are likely, and only when all the causes are treated will the patient be symptom-free.
A frequent or chronic cough usually indicates the presence of a disease. Coughs can be conventionally treated with cough medicines, often through cough suppressants (antitussives) that suppress the body's urge to cough. This can be less than ideal, as your body is built to naturally expel mucus and irritants by way of a cough.
However, it is always better to promote the body’s ability to expel mucus and phlegm and keep the mucus membranes moist, as dried out mucus membranes can be left susceptible to further infection.
More Information on Coughing
Tips for People who Suffer with Chronic Coughing
- Pop a few drops of oil of eucalyptus into a bath or basin of warm water, and breathe in the vapors. The warm moist air will soothe the airways and loosen sinus congestion and phlegm in your throat and lungs.
- Elevate the head of your bed, as this will allow any mucus in the back of the throat to drain backwards and prevent any bothersome tickles in the throat.
- Stop smoking, as this is the best way to prevent a smoker’s cough.
- Keep all carpets vacuumed and clean bedding regularly to prevent coughs associated with environmental triggers and allergens.
- If your cough is due to an illness, drink 8 glasses of water per day (which should be done on a daily basis, cough or not!). Water is a fabulous expectorant - and will help thin the mucus and ‘loosen’ the cough.
- During the winter, if your house is dry, use a humidifier and a cool-mist vaporizer in your bedroom at night. This will help to thin the mucus in your lungs. However, be sure to thoroughly clean the vaporizer regularly, as it can harbor bacteria!
- Sucking on sweets will help stop the tickle if you have a dry cough and will moisten the throat. Herbal teas can also be soothing and delicious.
- Avoid foods that increase the production of mucus, such as dairy products, meat and fried foods.
- Hot packs placed on your throat and chest can also be very soothing.
- Having a chest rub with essential oils will also help to loosen the chest. Inhaling the vapors of the essential oils of lavender, eucalyptus or other expectorant oils in addition to a warm bath can also be very helpful, especially just before bedtime.