The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are dropping, and seasonal illnesses are on the rise. For many, the change of seasons brings the unwelcome gift of a nagging cough that just won’t seem to go away. Though coughing is the body’s natural reflex to clear the airways, a prolonged cough can make you feel run down. Here are some tips to help you breathe easy through cold and flu season.
Know the Difference Between Productive and Non-Productive Coughs
A productive cough brings up mucus from the lungs and is the body’s way of clearing an infection. The mucus is the key – it means your body is doing its job to expel the invading virus or bacteria. Though it may be annoying, try not to suppress a productive cough.
A non-productive or dry cough doesn’t produce mucus. It’s often caused by irritation in the throat rather than an infection deeper in the chest. Dry coughs can linger for weeks after a cold is long gone, eventually becoming more irritating than the original illness. These coughs can disrupt sleep and leave your throat raw and aching.
Use Cough Suppressants Cautiously
Over-the-counter cough medicines aim to control coughing. But is that always a good idea?
Cough suppressants work by blocking your cough reflex or coating and soothing an irritated throat. The problem is they can also make it more difficult for your body to clear mucus build up in the lungs and airways.
If you have a productive cough, limiting coughing can lead to congestion and further infection. It’s best to avoid suppressing a productive cough whenever possible.
However, cough suppressants can provide relief when you have a non-productive cough related to a scratchy throat or postnasal drip. Just use them for the shortest time needed to control symptoms.
Try Honey and Herbal Remedies
For a non-productive cough, natural remedies can help soothe irritation and ease coughing episodes:
- Honey – Honey has antimicrobial and soothing properties. Add it to tea or take a small spoonful straight a few times daily.
- Thyme – Thymol, an extract found in thyme, helps relax cough spasms. Make thyme tea or add dried thyme to soups and broths.
- Licorice root – Contains an active ingredient called glycyrrhizin, which helps reduce irritation. Drink licorice root tea or take glycyrrhizin supplements.
- Marshmallow root – The mucilage in marshmallow root coats and protects sore throat tissues, almost like a lubricant for a pill stuck in your throat. Look for marshmallow root tea or lozenges.
Always check with your doctor before using herbal supplements.
Use a Humidifier
Dry indoor air can exacerbate coughs. Running a humidifier, especially in your bedroom at night, can help hydrate and soothe irritated airways.
Aim to keep humidity around 40-50%. Change humidifier filters regularly to avoid spreading germs. Also, be diligent about cleaning the humidifier itself according to manufacturer instructions.
Thin, loose cough mucus is easier for your body to clear than thick, sticky mucus. Drinking lots of fluids, especially warm ones, can help thin out mucus.
Broths, herbal teas, and plain water are great options. Avoid thick, creamy drinks that can leave mucus even thicker.
Consider Over-the-Counter Expectorants
If you have a very productive cough with heavy, congested mucus in your chest, over-the-counter expectorants can help thin mucus so it’s easier to cough up.
Guaifenesin is a common active ingredient in many expectorant products. Follow dosing directions carefully, as taking too much can make coughs worse.
Avoid expectorants if you have a dry, non-productive cough.
See Your Doctor if a Cough Persists
It’s normal for a cough to linger for up to 3 weeks after a cold or flu. But if yours lasts longer than that or is accompanied by these symptoms, see your doctor:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Green, brown, or bloody mucus
- Unexplained weight loss
A chronic cough could indicate an underlying condition like asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, or acid reflux. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
With the right remedies and care, most seasonal coughs will resolve on their own. But don’t hesitate to seek medical advice if your cough is lingering or worsening. Getting ahead of it early on can help you breathe freely again.
In conclusion, seasonal coughs are a common nuisance, but you don’t need to hold your breath. Use cough suppressants judiciously, employ natural remedies, stay hydrated, and use expectorants and humidifiers appropriately. Seek medical guidance if your cough persists beyond three weeks or is accompanied by concerning symptoms. With some smart strategies, you’ll be breathing easy again in no time.
Disclosure: This is a featured post.