What causes coughing and how can it be relieved?

Coughing is a natural reflex, but it is never very pleasant. How can you get rid of it as soon as possible?

Coughing is a common symptom, but not an illness!

Coughing is not an illness, but rather a symptom that can occur at any age for any reason. It is a natural reflex that helps to clear the airways of mucus or irritants.

Yes, coughing does have its functions. However, it is often considered unpleasant, especially at night. It is also one of the most frequent reasons for consulting a doctor.


Dry cough, wet cough―what's the difference?

A dry cough is often due to bronchial irritation. Sometimes, the more you cough, the more irritated your bronchial tubes become, leading to... even more coughing! A vicious circle that can be difficult to stop!

A wet cough, also called a "productive cough", is associated with the expulsion of mucus or sputum. It sometimes has a characteristic sound that sets it apart from a dry cough.

Another distinction is that a cough can be transient (acute) or long-lasting (chronic), depending on the cause.


What causes a cough?

There are many reasons for coughing, and one of the best ways to soothe or stop it is to find the cause. This can be a challenge, as it is a very common symptom with many different causes. Medical attention may be necessary, especially if the cough lasts more than a few weeks or is accompanied by more worrisome symptoms such as a high fever or respiratory distress.

Here are some examples of causes of a cough.

Respiratory infection. Coughing is a typical symptom of a viral infection such as the common cold, influenza or COVID-19. Many people will also cough if they have a bacterial infection, such as bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia or whooping cough.

Chronic respiratory disease. Coughing is part of the clinical presentation of many chronic health conditions such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis or lung cancer.

A non-respiratory condition. Acid reflux (also called gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a disorder caused by the regurgitation of stomach acid from the stomach. This can cause coughing. People who have difficulty swallowing (swallowing disorder) may also have a tendency to cough.

An allergy. Coughing is a common symptom of allergies to pollens, pet dander, moulds, etc.

A side effect of a medication. Coughing is also on the list of possible side effects of certain medications. A good example would be the class of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (also known as ACE inhibitors).

Smoking. It is not uncommon for smokers to be bothered by a chronic cough, often accompanied by mucus, especially in the morning. This is a sign of inflammation of the bronchial tubes induced by smoking.

Exposure to certain substances or triggers. The cough is sometimes caused by inhaling second-hand smoke, dust or chemicals (e.g., highly volatile household products). Contact with cold air or strong odours can also cause it.


How can a cough be relieved?

Treatment of coughs depends on identifying and managing the factors that are causing them. For example, if the cough is caused by asthma, then the treatment should be reviewed. If it is due to exposure to an irritant or allergenic substance, then it is best to avoid contact with it. If it is due to medication, consider alternative treatment. If it is due to a bacterial infection, taking an antibiotic will probably stop it. And so on.

In reality, a cough is often a symptom of a viral respiratory infection. In these cases, patience is required because there is no treatment that will stop the infection quickly or easily. It is necessary to wait for the immune system to do its work. The cough may persist for some time after all other symptoms of infection have subsided.

Cough suppressants are an interesting option for people who want to soothe their cough, especially if they have a respiratory infection. Syrups containing dextromethorphan (or DM) are available over the counter (without a prescription). It may be a good idea to buy them in advance in case of a cold or flu, or for any other reason that justifies their use.

It is always recommended to speak with your pharmacist before taking an over-the-counter medication, as some may not be suitable for you depending on your age, health, history, other medications you are taking, or other factors.

Expectorant syrups reduce the viscosity of bronchial secretions, making them easier to expel. Some formulations contain a combination of a cough suppressant and an expectorant, which can be beneficial.

Other syrups are stocked behind the pharmacy counter and you must ask the pharmacy area staff to obtain them. It is often necessary to consult the pharmacist. Additionally, prescription products may be required when the cough is severe and a medical visit is necessary.


What are some of your favourite tips?

Did your grandmother teach you some helpful tips to relieve a cough? Honey lozenges, sipping a glass of ice water, using an ice cube or popsicle, rubbing your throat or chest with a mentholated product, etc. These are all suggestions that, without having been scientifically proven, may be worth trying? Don't forget to consult your pharmacist for sound advice and to ensure that you are doing the right thing.


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What causes coughing and how can it be relieved?

Coughing is a natural reflex, but it is never very pleasant. How can you get rid of it as soon as possible?
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