Coughs, however irritating, serve a useful purpose.
They are nature’s way of clearing irritants and infections from our airways and lungs, but they can be annoying and interfere with sleep.
- What Happens When we Cough?
- Types of Cough
- Causes of a Cough
- Natural Remedies for Coughs
- Remedies to Relieve Acid Reflux
When our nervous system detects something irritating in the airways it sends a message to our brain which in turn tells the muscles in the chest to contract.
The cough reflex is also triggered by mucus or phlegm in the throat, which is why we usually develop a cough when we suffer from a cold virus.
A typical cough starts with a deep breath, followed by compression of air in the lungs and then a burst as the air is forced out.
Scientists estimate we cough at speeds of up to an incredible 50mph, and the average cough is comprised of around 3000 droplets of saliva.
Coughs may be classified as wet or dry.
- Dry Cough
A dry cough is so irritating. It’s tickly and usually accompanied by a dry prickly throat. It’s typically worse at night, especially once you lie down.
A dry cough isn’t usually accompanied by mucus or phlegm.
The first thing to remember with a dry cough is to keep it hydrated. If the soft tissues of the throat stay moist this can help reduce the irritation and tickling.
Sip plenty of water, drink herbal teas and eat broths and soups. It’s also worth investing in a humidifier to keep the atmosphere around you from getting too dry.
- Wet Cough
A wet cough is one that brings up phlegm. It may also be termed a productive cough. It’s usually a sign of infection.
Many people, when plagued by a wet cough, will turn to medicine to suppress it, but this can be counter-productive.
Phlegm is full of bacteria and the body is trying to expel it for a good reason.
A wet cough is generally worse in the morning and may be accompanied by wheezing from your chest.
As with a dry cough, if you’re suffering from a wet cough you should make sure you stay hydrated as this will help the cough to stay productive.
If your life is being made a misery by a hacking cough which won’t go away and won’t let you rest however tired you are, it’s worth remembering coughs can have a variety of causes.
Before reaching for a remedy, first, determine what is causing your cough.
- Viral Infections
Coughing is one of the most well-known and commonest symptoms of colds and flu, which are caused by viruses.
The cough tends to be the last symptom you’re left with after the stuffy nose and chills have gone.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes of the lungs which carry air from the windpipe to the lungs.
The tubes then thicken with mucus and the flow of air is restricted.
Bronchitis tends to cause a nagging cough which starts off dry but may produce phlegm as it progresses to become a persistent hacking cough.
Bronchitis can be acute and relatively short lived, or it can become chronic and difficult to shake off.
It’s usually caused by a virus but may sometimes be a result of a bacterial infection. Acute bronchitis typically develops after a bout of flu or a cold, but sometimes it can develop after exposure to pollutants or other chemicals. Chronic bronchitis is often, but not always, associated with smoking.
Inhaling an allergen such as pet hair, pollen or even house dust can spark off an allergy which in turn can make you cough.
The body recognises the substance as foreign, which results in an inappropriate immune response. This produces the familiar sneezing, and the cough will try to expel the culprit.
The cough associated with allergies is usually dry.
This is a chronic disease where the airways of the lungs become inflamed and swell.
Symptoms include tight chest, trouble breathing and coughing. Asthma may come and go with the seasons.
Triggers vary from person to person but can include airborne pollutants, smoke, exercise and certain foods.
The most common type of asthma is triggered by an allergic response.
As part of its immune response, the body releases chemicals which cause the muscles around the airways to tighten.
- Acid reflux
Acid reflux happens when the muscular sphincter at the top of the stomach becomes weak.
Some of the acidic stomach contents are then regurgitated back up into the oesophagus.
Symptoms include heartburn, burping, bloating, hiccups or nausea, often accompanied by a bitter taste in the back of the throat. Lying down often makes it worse.
Persistent acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
This is often accompanied by a chronic cough because droplets of the stomach contents end up in the larynx.
The cough is a protective mechanism to expel the liquid. In a vicious cycle, the cough makes GERD worse.
It’s estimated GERD may be responsible for over a quarter of cases of a chronic cough (1).
The cough happens mostly at night or after a meal.
Avoiding foods which trigger acid reflux can reduce a cough which is a symptom of this problem.
Common trigger foods include spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, citrus, chocolate, fried foods, garlic and onions.
Sometimes acid reflux is triggered by medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, beta blockers and antibiotics.
Other measures to help include avoiding large meals, not eating late at night, sleeping on a slight incline with your head raised above your stomach and avoiding tight-fitting clothing.
If your cough is severe or if it persists for more than a couple of weeks, or if it’s accompanied by high fever, wheezing or coloured or bloodstained phlegm, speak to your GP.
Otherwise, why not try one of the following natural remedies?
Research into the cough-relieving properties of honey has had such impressive results it has led NICE and Public Health England to recommend honey as a treatment for coughs. (2)
For example, honey was found in one study to be effective for symptomatic relief of dry nighttime cough. In children who had developed a cough from an upper respiratory tract infection, honey also helped them drop off to sleep more easily (3).
Use up to two teaspoons honey with warm water or herbal tea. Add a squeeze of lemon which acts as a natural expectorant.
Or make a delicious cough remedy by adding cinnamon, turmeric, powdered ginger and a small amount of black pepper to some honey.
Take half a teaspoon straight from the spoon. The mixture will coat and soothe your throat and help ease a cough.
How about mixing honey and lemon with coconut oil to pack an incredible cough-soothing punch for a dry tickly cough, as recommended by Coconut Mama?
The coconut oil adds antibacterial activity. Combine three tablespoons lemon juice, 85g honey and two tablespoons coconut oil.
Gently heat until the coconut oil has melted, stirring the mixture together. Take a spoonful as needed.
Finally, why not try this home-made cinnamon and honey cough syrup recommended by commonsensehome.com
The cinnamon adds an anti-inflammatory boost to the mixture.
For 150g honey, you’ll need around a quarter of a teaspoon of cinnamon.
Take a spoonful as needed.
Don’t give honey to children under one year old because of the small risk of botulism from some honey.
Ginger may help a dry cough, particularly one associated with asthma, but it’s also great for a productive cough too.
Ginger contains substances known as shogaols and gingerols which have anti-inflammatory properties and may help to relax membranes in our windpipe.
As a happy bonus, ginger has been found to be antibacterial against several pathogens responsible for the development of a cough (4)
Add a couple of slices of fresh ginger to hot water and allow to steep. Pop in some honey or lemon juice for further cough-busting effect.
Thyme is traditionally used as a cough remedy.
One study found it effective at reducing coughing fits in cases of acute bronchitis when used as cough syrup in combination with ivy leaf (5).
Thyme leaves contain flavonoids which appear to relax the throat muscles involved in coughing and can also reduce inflammation.
Thyme is officially approved in Germany as a herbal treatment for a cough and bronchitis.
Make thyme tea with 2 teaspoons thyme leaves in 1 cup boiling water. Steep for ten minutes before drinking.
Once flax seeds are soaked in water, they form a gooey gel which can be soothing for dry irritated throats.
The Latin name for flaxseed once translated means ‘very useful’. In this case, they are also handy as they contain anti-inflammatory omega 3 oils.
You’ll need around three tablespoons flaxseeds in 100ml water. Boil until the mixture starts to thicken, then strain and mix in 1 teaspoon honey to two teaspoons liquid, plus a little lemon juice.
This remedy is particularly useful to stop a coughing fit.
A great remedy for a wet cough, black pepper is said to stimulate the flow of mucus.
Place one teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in a cup and pour over boiling water.
Add a tablespoon of honey, stir and let steep for ten minutes before straining and sipping.
This herb has been recognised by the European Medicines Agency as helpful in reducing the irritation caused by a dry cough because it has a high mucilage content.
By this, we mean once it comes into contact with water it forms a soothing mucus-like substance which coats the throat. Marshmallow root can be bought dried or as a tea.
This herb has been traditionally used as an expectorant for wet productive coughs.
One study looked at a cough syrup containing dried ivy leaf, along with thyme, aniseed and marshmallow root and its effect on patients suffering from a cough as a result of bronchitis, respiratory tract infections or a cold.
The syrup reduced coughs by almost 100% in 12 days. (6)
This remedy has been traditionally used to ease a dry cough. Like marshmallow root, it contains mucilage to soothe the throat.
Try slippery elm as a tea: add one teaspoon slippery elm herb to a cup of hot water and let steep for ten minutes.
This herb, also known as the African Geranium, has a long traditional usage for coughs and upper respiratory tract infections.
It has been recommended by NICE as a herbal remedy for coughs and is particularly useful for coughs associated with bronchitis.
Bromelain is an enzyme which is found in pineapples. It’s anti-inflammatory and may also help to break down mucus.
This means bromelain may be useful for a wet cough.
You could include pineapple in your diet as fresh pineapple or pineapple juice, or why not try this cough relieving recipe?
Combine 100ml pineapple juice, a pinch of pepper and one and a half teaspoons honey.
Drink 25ml up to three times daily.
Although bromelain occurs naturally in pineapple juice, it’s highly concentrated in the inedible stem, so a bromelain supplement may be recommended to obtain the full benefit.
Speak to your GP before taking a bromelain supplement as it could interfere with prescribed medications.
This culinary herb contains menthol which not only acts as a decongestant, helping to break down excess mucus, but it can also soothe the throat.
Drink peppermint tea or make a peppermint inhalation by adding a few drops of peppermint oil to hot water in a bowl.
Drape a towel over your head and the bowl and inhale the peppermint steam.
Although they don’t have a direct cough-suppressing effect, probiotics can help support your immune system and prevent you from picking up a cough or a cold in the first place.
And once you’ve developed one, a stronger immune system can mean the illness doesn’t last as long.
Vitamin C has been widely researched for its role in supporting immunity.
One study found an inverse relationship between vitamin C intake and cough frequency in smokers.
Increase vitamin C-rich foods such as kiwi, melon, berries, kale and broccoli instead of drinking fruit juices.
Although it does contain vitamin C, fruit juice is also high in sugar which can suppress the immune system.
Many therapists believe dairy products are associated with increased mucus production although research hasn’t supported this in anyone other than people who are sensitive to dairy.
However, dairy products do feel like mucus in the mouth and many people report they can make a cough worse.
It’s worth avoiding dairy at least until your cough has abated.
One of the most common remedies for acid reflux is apple cider vinegar.
You might think vinegar, being acidic, would be the worst thing for a problem caused by acid.
However, it appears it’s a case of stomach acid being produced at the wrong time – usually too late, after the food has left the stomach.
Apple cider vinegar is beneficial possibly because it helps to balance the bacteria living in the digestive system.
Many people find relief from acid reflux by taking between half and two teaspoons apple cider vinegar in warm water before a meal, or just before bed.
Try holding the mixture in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it, because this stimulates the production of saliva and therefore stomach acid.
Aloe Vera juice can sooth irritation caused by acid reflux and by so doing ease a cough caused by the condition.
Mix 75ml Aloe Vera juice with 200ml coconut water and drink around 20 minutes before eating.
It appears an apple a day really does keep the doctor away in the case of acid reflux.
Apples contain pectin which can be beneficial for the digestive system. Sweet apples such as Golden Delicious work better than sour varieties.
If you often suffer from coughs or if you suspect your immune system is not functioning as it should a personalised health consultation with an Amchara therapist could help.
By taking an in-depth look at the functioning of your body’s systems, imbalances can be identified and corrected.
Lasting positive changes to your body’s health can be the result.
Are you ready to Change for Good?
By Cathy Robinson BScDipNutMed
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