How to remedy a cough depends on what's causing it

Is a cough making your life miserable? Don't blame your body; coughing is the only way your lungs can expel an irrita...

Posted: Jan 5, 2018 3:31 PM
Updated: Jan 5, 2018 3:31 PM

Is a cough making your life miserable? Don't blame your body; coughing is the only way your lungs can expel an irritant. The key is to figure what's causing it and then to get your lungs the help they need.

A cough that appears suddenly is usually triggered by an infectious disease, such as cold or flu.

Coughing is your body's way of expelling an irritant

To eliminate the cough, help your body rid itself of the invader

"A majority of coughs actually resolve with just rest and home remedies," said Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, an internist at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta. "So that's the place to start unless there are warning signs of something more serious."

Red flags include coughing up blood-tinged phlegm, a great deal of phlegm or phlegm that is turning thicker and darker; fever; shortness of breath; and wheezing.

"Those are all signs that the cause more likely to be a bacterial than viral infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, or perhaps an underlying medical condition," Bergquist said. "But without those signs, it's usually OK to try home remedies for a few days."

Home remedies for cough

Staying hydrated is the best thing you can do for a cough. Liquids thin out the mucus, making it less irritating to the throat and easier for the lungs to expel. Steam from a hot shower can do the same. Saline or salt water drops or spray are another option to moisten the nasal passages and thin mucus.

Adding a cool-mist humidifier, also known as a vaporizer, to your or your child's room can improve the air's moisture content, helping hydrate the lungs, but be sure to clean it daily. (Hot-water vaporizers aren't recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics because of the risk of scalding or burns).

Other popular home remedies include tea, chicken soup and honey, whether eaten alone or added to drinks.

"Chicken soup has a lot of value if you're sick in general," Bergquist said. "The warmth and spices open up the sinuses. For coughs, hot liquids ease the throat, and honey is quite effective. Studies have compared honey with some of the over-the-counter cough medicines and found it works just as well."

But keep honey away from any infant. Honey can lead to infant botulism because of a baby's immature digestive system. By age 1, their bowels have matured enough that they can eat honey safely.

Your cough should improve over a few days, with mucus looking lighter and thinner, Bergquist said. If that doesn't happen, it might be time to check with a doctor.

Over-the-counter options

The US Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics point to studies showing that many parents are ignoring guidelines and mixing too many over-the-counter cough and cold medications, thus overdosing their children.

The FDA clearly recommends no OTC meds for children under 2 and no codeine-based medications for children under 12. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed its guidance to recommend no OTC medications for children under 4, warning adults to carefully measure the dosages.

At any age, the only over-the-counter cough remedy Bergquist recommends are cough drops, and then only when a child is old enough not to choke on them, about 4 years old.

Sucking on drops can soothe and moisten the throat, and versions with menthol could have a tiny numbing effect on that annoying tickle. Other over-the-counter remedies, Bergquist said, "are not particularly effective."

"I typically skip to prescription medication that will work directly on the cough reflex or the part of the central nervous system where the brain processes the cough," she said. "I find those are the ones that really work."

A chronic cough

What if your cough is more of a dry, hacking one that has lasted a few weeks? Chronic cough can have many causes, and you and your doctor may need to play detective.

Medications

Certain prescription medications can trigger coughing. A typical culprit is a class of medication used to treat high blood pressure and kidney damage from diabetes. Studies say these ACE inhibitors can cause coughing in up to a third of patients; they include such medications as enalapril (Vasotec), captopril (Capoten) and lisinopril (Zestril, Prinivil).

This "ACE cough" can start immediately or even months after beginning the medication, and it is typically dry and unproductive. The only treatment is to stop the ACE inhibitor, but it might take months for the cough to resolve.

Other medications that may cause a chronic cough are inhaled corticosteroids, used by many asthma and allergy sufferers, a diabetes drug called sitagliptin and some antibiotics.

Environmental causes

Chemicals or other irritants in the environment can also produce an ongoing cough, especially if you are allergic to that trigger. Cigarette smoking is an obvious offender, as are dust, mold and pollen. If your chronic cough is due to an allergy, medications to treat it may improve your symptoms.

Digestive reasons

How can your digestive system cause you to cough? It happens when the acid from your stomach splashes up into your esophagus, irritating both your esophagus and the larynx, or voice box. That condition is called gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD. Oddly enough, you don't have to have a burning sensation or other signs of reflux for this to happen.

"Acid reflux is one of those silent causes of cough that is common and underdiagnosed," Bergquist said. "But it needs to be addressed, because it can lead to Barrett's esophagus."

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the cells of your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach, are so damaged by stomach acid that they change into tissue similar to that of the intestine. It can lead to a rare form of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Serious health issues

Although rare, coughing can also be a warning sign of a serious health issue. Coughing up blood can be a sign of something serious, such as lung cancer or an infectious disease such as tuberculosis. Usually, there will be significant accompanying symptoms, such as weight loss, fatigue, weakness, bone pain, loss of appetite and night sweats.

With any of these red flags, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible. For dry coughs that occur without other worrisome symptoms, Bergquist said, the duration of the cough is a good measure of when to worry and not worry.

"If it's a dry cough and not productive, no phlegm, you're not short of breath and have no fever, it's OK to wait a bit to see if it resolves," she said. "But if the dry cough continues past six weeks, you should see a doctor to figure out a cause and to eliminate the unexpected, such as lung tumors or other serious issues."

West Lafayette
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 73°
Kokomo
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 76°
Rensselaer
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 73°
Fowler
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 73°
Williamsport
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 78°
Crawfordsville
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 75°
Frankfort
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 75°
Delphi
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 75°
Monticello
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 75°
Logansport
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 75°
Calm and Cloudy Start this Wednesday Morning.
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 75862

Reported Deaths: 3069
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16088730
Lake7688278
Elkhart492685
Allen4002163
St. Joseph357883
Hamilton2829104
Vanderburgh202213
Hendricks1927108
Cass18029
Johnson1789119
Porter135539
Clark128749
Tippecanoe123811
Madison100665
LaPorte93130
Howard91365
Kosciusko86812
Bartholomew81747
Floyd80948
Marshall79323
Monroe76631
Delaware74552
Dubois70812
Vigo69911
Noble68829
Boone68746
Hancock68339
Jackson5965
Warrick58830
Shelby56527
LaGrange56310
Grant52930
Dearborn51228
Morgan49334
Clinton4444
Henry40620
Wayne38510
White37611
Montgomery35921
Lawrence35227
Harrison34823
Decatur34132
Putnam3128
Daviess27720
Miami2772
Scott27210
Jasper2552
Greene25434
Franklin24615
DeKalb2384
Gibson2314
Jennings22712
Steuben2133
Ripley2138
Carroll1962
Fayette1947
Perry18713
Posey1790
Starke1787
Wells1742
Orange17424
Fulton1722
Wabash1703
Jefferson1672
Knox1610
Whitley1556
Tipton14312
Washington1421
Sullivan1381
Spencer1373
Clay1245
Huntington1243
Randolph1244
Newton12010
Adams1092
Owen991
Jay920
Rush854
Pulaski811
Fountain742
Brown741
Blackford652
Ohio656
Benton640
Pike590
Vermillion580
Switzerland530
Parke511
Martin480
Crawford450
Union410
Warren241
Unassigned0206

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events