A cough, also known as tussis, is a sudden reflex that humans and many animals have. Its purpose is to clear the throat and breathing passage of foreign particles, microbes, irritants, fluids, and mucus – it is a rapid expulsion of air from the lungs.
Coughing can be done deliberately or involuntarily. Although coughing can be a sign of a serious illness, more often, it will clear up on its own without the need for medical attention.
A cough can be caused by several conditions, both temporary and permanent.
Clearing the throat
A cough is a standard way of clearing the throat. When your airways become clogged with mucus or foreign particles such as smoke or dust, a cough is a reflex reaction that attempts to clear the particles and make breathing easier.
Usually, this type of coughing is relatively infrequent, but coughing will increase with exposure to irritants such as smoke.
Viruses and bacteria
The most common cause of a cough is a respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or flu. Respiratory tract infections are usually caused by a virus and may last from a few days to a week. Infections caused by the flu may take a little longer to clear up and may sometimes require antibiotics.
Smoking is another common cause of coughing. A cough caused by smoking is almost always a chronic cough with a distinctive sound. It’s often known as “smoker’s cough.”
A common cause of coughing in young children is asthma. Typically, asthmatic coughing involves wheezing, making it easy to identify. Asthma exacerbations should receive treatment using an inhaler. It’s possible for children to grow out of asthma as they get older.
Some medications will cause coughing, although this is generally a rare side effect. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, commonly used to treat high blood pressure and heart conditions, can cause coughing. Two of the more common brands are Zestril (lisinopril) and Vasotec (enalapril). The coughing stops when the medication is discontinued.
Other conditions that may cause a cough include:
- damage to the vocal cords
- postnasal drip
- bacterial infections such as pneumonia, whooping cough, and croup
- serious conditions such as pulmonary embolism and heart failure
Another common condition that can cause a chronic cough is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In this condition, stomach contents flow back into the esophagus. This backflow stimulates a reflex in the trachea, causing the person to cough.
Treatment and Home Remedies
While many people reach for over-the-counter medicines, experts say that many of them are a waste of money. A Harvard University report notes, “According to American College of Chest Physicians guidelines, many of the active ingredients in over-the-counter cough remedies are ineffective.”
So, how to quell that cough without resorting to over-the-counter medicines that are possibly ineffective and may offer a host of their own side effects? With natural remedies, of course. Here are some favorite folk ways to relieve a nagging cough.
Sip some warm milk. Another popular home cough suppressant is a cup of hot milk sweetened with honey.
Suck a lemon for fast-acting cough relief. This isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is one of the more commonly used home remedies: Quarter a fresh lemon, sprinkle it with lots of black pepper and salt, and suck on it for quick relief.
There is scientific evidence that honey can be effective in treating coughs and sore throats. You can take it straight, or mix honey with coconut oil and lemon juice for extra benefits. You can also try many a grandmother’s old standby before bedtime: a shot of bourbon mixed with honey.
Crank up the hot water, close the windows and turn off the exhaust fan. Steam can be a cough’s worst enemy, and thus, your best friend. Steam works to soothe the airways and loosen sinus congestion and phlegm in your throat and lungs. (Although take note, WebMD warns that steam may exacerbate coughs caused by asthma.)
Ginger is one of the most popular natural cures for a cough.
One of the simplest home remedies for a cough is to cut onions. Breathing in the strong vapors can help stop coughing.
Garlic has both antibacterial and antimicrobial components that help treat coughs.