BREAKING NEWS Kenneth Pitts sentenced for his involvement in 2018 death of Anita Oswald Full Story
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

How to remedy a cough depends on what's causing it

Is a cough making your life miserable? Don't blame your body; coughing is the only way your lungs can expel an irrita...

Posted: Jan 5, 2018 3:31 PM
Updated: Jan 5, 2018 3:31 PM

Is a cough making your life miserable? Don't blame your body; coughing is the only way your lungs can expel an irritant. The key is to figure what's causing it and then to get your lungs the help they need.

A cough that appears suddenly is usually triggered by an infectious disease, such as cold or flu.

Coughing is your body's way of expelling an irritant

To eliminate the cough, help your body rid itself of the invader

"A majority of coughs actually resolve with just rest and home remedies," said Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, an internist at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta. "So that's the place to start unless there are warning signs of something more serious."

Red flags include coughing up blood-tinged phlegm, a great deal of phlegm or phlegm that is turning thicker and darker; fever; shortness of breath; and wheezing.

"Those are all signs that the cause more likely to be a bacterial than viral infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, or perhaps an underlying medical condition," Bergquist said. "But without those signs, it's usually OK to try home remedies for a few days."

Home remedies for cough

Staying hydrated is the best thing you can do for a cough. Liquids thin out the mucus, making it less irritating to the throat and easier for the lungs to expel. Steam from a hot shower can do the same. Saline or salt water drops or spray are another option to moisten the nasal passages and thin mucus.

Adding a cool-mist humidifier, also known as a vaporizer, to your or your child's room can improve the air's moisture content, helping hydrate the lungs, but be sure to clean it daily. (Hot-water vaporizers aren't recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics because of the risk of scalding or burns).

Other popular home remedies include tea, chicken soup and honey, whether eaten alone or added to drinks.

"Chicken soup has a lot of value if you're sick in general," Bergquist said. "The warmth and spices open up the sinuses. For coughs, hot liquids ease the throat, and honey is quite effective. Studies have compared honey with some of the over-the-counter cough medicines and found it works just as well."

But keep honey away from any infant. Honey can lead to infant botulism because of a baby's immature digestive system. By age 1, their bowels have matured enough that they can eat honey safely.

Your cough should improve over a few days, with mucus looking lighter and thinner, Bergquist said. If that doesn't happen, it might be time to check with a doctor.

Over-the-counter options

The US Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics point to studies showing that many parents are ignoring guidelines and mixing too many over-the-counter cough and cold medications, thus overdosing their children.

The FDA clearly recommends no OTC meds for children under 2 and no codeine-based medications for children under 12. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed its guidance to recommend no OTC medications for children under 4, warning adults to carefully measure the dosages.

At any age, the only over-the-counter cough remedy Bergquist recommends are cough drops, and then only when a child is old enough not to choke on them, about 4 years old.

Sucking on drops can soothe and moisten the throat, and versions with menthol could have a tiny numbing effect on that annoying tickle. Other over-the-counter remedies, Bergquist said, "are not particularly effective."

"I typically skip to prescription medication that will work directly on the cough reflex or the part of the central nervous system where the brain processes the cough," she said. "I find those are the ones that really work."

A chronic cough

What if your cough is more of a dry, hacking one that has lasted a few weeks? Chronic cough can have many causes, and you and your doctor may need to play detective.

Medications

Certain prescription medications can trigger coughing. A typical culprit is a class of medication used to treat high blood pressure and kidney damage from diabetes. Studies say these ACE inhibitors can cause coughing in up to a third of patients; they include such medications as enalapril (Vasotec), captopril (Capoten) and lisinopril (Zestril, Prinivil).

This "ACE cough" can start immediately or even months after beginning the medication, and it is typically dry and unproductive. The only treatment is to stop the ACE inhibitor, but it might take months for the cough to resolve.

Other medications that may cause a chronic cough are inhaled corticosteroids, used by many asthma and allergy sufferers, a diabetes drug called sitagliptin and some antibiotics.

Environmental causes

Chemicals or other irritants in the environment can also produce an ongoing cough, especially if you are allergic to that trigger. Cigarette smoking is an obvious offender, as are dust, mold and pollen. If your chronic cough is due to an allergy, medications to treat it may improve your symptoms.

Digestive reasons

How can your digestive system cause you to cough? It happens when the acid from your stomach splashes up into your esophagus, irritating both your esophagus and the larynx, or voice box. That condition is called gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD. Oddly enough, you don't have to have a burning sensation or other signs of reflux for this to happen.

"Acid reflux is one of those silent causes of cough that is common and underdiagnosed," Bergquist said. "But it needs to be addressed, because it can lead to Barrett's esophagus."

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the cells of your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach, are so damaged by stomach acid that they change into tissue similar to that of the intestine. It can lead to a rare form of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Serious health issues

Although rare, coughing can also be a warning sign of a serious health issue. Coughing up blood can be a sign of something serious, such as lung cancer or an infectious disease such as tuberculosis. Usually, there will be significant accompanying symptoms, such as weight loss, fatigue, weakness, bone pain, loss of appetite and night sweats.

With any of these red flags, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible. For dry coughs that occur without other worrisome symptoms, Bergquist said, the duration of the cough is a good measure of when to worry and not worry.

"If it's a dry cough and not productive, no phlegm, you're not short of breath and have no fever, it's OK to wait a bit to see if it resolves," she said. "But if the dry cough continues past six weeks, you should see a doctor to figure out a cause and to eliminate the unexpected, such as lung tumors or other serious issues."

Terre Haute
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 53°
Robinson
Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 52°
Indianapolis
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 53°
Rockville
Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 52°
Casey
Cloudy
51° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 51°
Brazil
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 53°
Marshall
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 53°
Cloudy and Cool
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1677939

Reported Deaths: 27996
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook63537311208
DuPage1083221378
Will913951127
Lake801071088
Kane68469872
Winnebago41117561
Madison40130597
St. Clair36293598
McHenry34762330
Champaign27034197
Peoria26956368
Sangamon25767287
McLean23033219
Tazewell20666331
Rock Island18872361
Kankakee17943249
Kendall16221113
Macon15321251
LaSalle15052287
Vermilion14418201
Adams13167152
DeKalb12169134
Williamson12069174
Whiteside8307183
Jackson809394
Boone794883
Coles7895124
Ogle757989
Grundy739486
Franklin7335115
Knox7297169
Clinton7129102
Macoupin6965106
Marion6929144
Henry664277
Effingham6618100
Jefferson6561143
Livingston598498
Stephenson585493
Woodford577192
Randolph5560100
Christian535682
Fulton527376
Monroe5252103
Morgan5079100
Logan495374
Montgomery491881
Lee478960
Bureau443191
Saline434469
Perry433775
Fayette431264
Iroquois421777
McDonough374161
Shelby348748
Jersey336253
Lawrence333433
Crawford333230
Douglas328137
Union307248
Wayne304363
Richland280057
White280033
Hancock274035
Clark266540
Cass266330
Pike265258
Edgar260149
Clay259254
Bond257425
Ford245659
Warren244266
Carroll236838
Moultrie235733
Johnson228832
Wabash217219
Jo Daviess216129
Massac215850
Mason214452
Washington212528
De Witt206230
Greene205340
Mercer204736
Piatt202314
Cumberland190226
Menard172313
Jasper161321
Marshall141521
Hamilton134122
Schuyler108310
Brown106610
Edwards104218
Pulaski104212
Stark81628
Gallatin7889
Alexander72512
Scott7126
Henderson70614
Calhoun6932
Hardin60616
Putnam5654
Pope5536
Unassigned1622433
Out of IL130

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 1005797

Reported Deaths: 16449
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1353572119
Lake663011164
Allen57820801
Hamilton46296464
St. Joseph44311613
Elkhart35888509
Vanderburgh32214480
Tippecanoe27898258
Johnson25056445
Hendricks23854359
Porter22890365
Madison18724409
Clark18540252
Vigo17449303
Monroe15242199
LaPorte15124250
Delaware15043261
Howard14719289
Kosciusko12285147
Hancock11709175
Bartholomew11602180
Warrick11287189
Floyd11082215
Wayne10965253
Grant10051220
Morgan9457176
Boone8913116
Dubois8263131
Dearborn820893
Henry8200152
Noble8017106
Marshall7916135
Cass7528121
Lawrence7447171
Shelby7176119
Jackson697289
Gibson6584115
Harrison647591
Knox6418106
Huntington6385100
DeKalb630699
Montgomery6252110
Miami592298
Putnam580078
Clinton574971
Whitley564255
Steuben560676
Wabash5324104
Jasper529879
Jefferson510297
Ripley499886
Adams481576
Daviess4670114
Scott438574
Greene424496
Wells423088
Clay422060
White418164
Decatur4164102
Fayette406187
Jennings386661
Posey376644
LaGrange357678
Washington357651
Randolph344499
Spencer339543
Fountain334760
Sullivan328652
Starke316470
Owen314170
Fulton309467
Orange293564
Jay284145
Franklin265443
Perry265352
Rush261332
Carroll261133
Vermillion257754
Parke231126
Pike228843
Tipton227559
Blackford192642
Pulaski183457
Crawford159223
Newton157848
Benton150217
Brown146147
Martin138219
Switzerland134911
Warren121016
Union107016
Ohio84513
Unassigned0540