Practical Cough Advice

Coughing is a natural reflex used to clear the airways of dust, dirt or phlegm.

Coughs tend to either be dry or chesty, and are often classed as productive or unproductive. Most coughs clear within a fortnight. Coughs often accompany other illnesses, such as cold or flu.

Coughs can be classified in three ways: acute - coughs which last less than three weeks; subacute - coughs lasting three to eight weeks; and chronic - an on-going cough which persists after eight weeks. 

Common Cough Symptoms

Coughs can be caused by a number of factors. Commonly, coughs are caused by an infection in the respiratory tract, often coupled with a virus like cold, laryngitis, or flu. Coughing can also be caused by breathing in dust or dirt, or from irritants such as smoking.

Most acute coughs last for two weeks before disappearing. Persistent coughs, which last longer than eight weeks, are deemed chronic. These are often caused by smoking, but in some cases, may be linked to a condition like rhinitis (an infection which causes the inside of the nose to become swollen), or, in children, could suggest something more serious, such as whooping cough.

Coughs are usually split into two categories: dry or chesty. Dry coughs affect the throat and can be tickly, scratchy and irritating.

A dry cough is caused by the throat and airways becoming swollen. Dry coughs are non-productive - meaning that phlegm (or mucus) is not produced. Dry coughs are most often associated with an illness like cold or flu.

Chesty coughs are productive - as you cough, you loosen and clear phlegm from the airways and lung passages.

Cough Treatment and Advice

Most coughs won't last more than two weeks, and can be controlled with cough medicine. A lot of cough medicines also help alleviate symptoms of cold and flu too - making breathing more comfortable.

Other medicines are available which try to supress the coughing reflex. Otherwise known as antitussives, these may be available in cough liquid form, or come as sweets known as cough drops. This kind of treatment will only work on dry coughs.

For chesty coughs, an expectorant can help loosen phlegm so the cough is more productive. There are several kinds of expectorant cough medicine available, including guaiphenein and sodium citrate. Most cough mixtures contain an amount of expectorant.

Cough medicines are not an on-going treatment, however. If your cough lasts more than two weeks, you should get it checked out.

It's worth noting that taking a deep breath before coughing will make the reflex more effective.

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