Coughing is an instinctive reflex of the respiratory system that helps eliminate irritants, mucous, or foreign particles from the airways. According to a survey by the National Library of Medicine, chronic cough is quite prevalent in middle-age and a high proportion of cases are unexplained. It plays a vital role in maintaining lung health and defending the body from respiratory infections and other airway irritations. However, coughing can also be a symptom of multiple underlying ailments, extending from slight discomfort to severe illnesses.

What causes coughs?

Coughing can be caused by a variety of conditions, including respiratory infections such as the common cold or flu, allergies, and asthma. Chronic bronchitis, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), and postnasal drip can all cause coughing. Environmental factors such as tobacco or air pollution, drugs such as ACE inhibitors, and underlying lung disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can contribute to chronic coughing. Furthermore, psychological variables such as stress might worsen coughing. Identifying the underlying reason typically requires taking into account associated symptoms and medical history. Treatment varies according to the cause and might range from rest and fluids to medications for asthma or GORD. Addressing environmental causes and controlling stress can also help to relieve cough symptoms.

Is it wet cough and dry cough: What could cause it?

Coughs are classified as wet (productive) or dry (non-productive), and the reasons are different for each kind. Knowing whether a cough is wet or dry can help determine the best course of action for treatment and management by pointing to the underlying source of the problem.

Wet (productive) cough:

Usually linked to respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia, these infections cause increased mucous formation in the airways, which the body attempts to eliminate through coughing. Other reasons include chronic illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchiectasis, which are characterised by mucus accumulation.

Dry (non-productive) cough:

This kind of cough is typically caused by irritation or inflammation in the throat and upper airways. Common reasons include viral infections (in the early stages), allergies, asthma, acid reflux, medications (particularly ACE inhibitors), and environmental factors such as smoking or pollution. Dry coughs can also be triggered by psychological causes like stress or worry.

How to stop coughing so much? 

These helpful methods might help ease and lessen excessive coughing at home:
  1. Stay hydrated: To keep your throat moist and mucous thin, drink lots of fluids such as water, herbal teas, and clear broths.
  2. Use honey: Honey can help to soothe your throat. Mix it with warm water or herbal tea or take a tablespoon straight.
  3. Steam: Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water (be cautious not to burn yourself) or take a hot shower to help release mucus and soothe the throat.
  4. Gargle with salt water: Combine a teaspoon of salt with warm water and gargle several times each day to minimise throat inflammation and discomfort.
  5. Humidify the air: Place a humidifier in your bedroom to increase moisture in the air, which can assist with coughing, particularly at night.
  6. Warm liquids: Warm liquids, such as herbal teas with lemon and ginger, can help to soothe the throat and promote relaxation.
  7. Rest: Get adequate rest to help your body heal from the underlying sickness that is producing the cough.
  8. Avoid irritants: Smoke, strong odours, and other environmental irritants may aggravate coughing.
  9. Elevate your head: While resting, use additional pillows to elevate your head, which can help lessen coughing, particularly if it is caused by postnasal drip.
  10. Over-the-counter remedies: Consider using over-the-counter cough syrups or lozenges containing substances such as dextromethorphan or menthol but use them according to the package instructions.

When to consult a doctor?

If you are experiencing prolonged or frequent coughing without being sick, it is encouraged to seek medical advice. If your coughing is accompanied by other worrying signs such as fever, chest pain, breathlessness, or weight loss, it is advisable to consult a doctor. Furthermore, if your cough is severe and disturbs your day-to-day activities or if you have a medical history of respiratory conditions like asthma, seeking medical advice is imperative. For children, the elderly, or people with weakened immunity, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out underlying health problems that may require medical assistance. Early identification and proper care can help manage the underlying cause of the cough and prevent complications. 

Can an online doctor help?

Yes, online doctors can provide helpful support for coughing through virtual consultations. They can analyse symptoms, and medical history and correlate factors to identify potential causes of the cough. According to their evaluation, they may suggest appropriate treatments, and lifestyle changes, or prescribe medications if necessary. They may also recommend in-person visits or diagnostic tests to exclude significant underlying concerns. Online consultations offer ease of access, convenience, and professional medical guidance, ensuring timely care from coughing.

If you are coughing constantly and seeking medical advice, there’s no need to leave your couch or wait in clinics. Speak to a registered online GP within minutes through a telehealth appointment.

While coughing is an innate and favourable reflex, prolonged or unusual coughing requires attention and assessment. Understanding the different causes and types of coughs can help in prompt identification and suitable care. Whether it is a momentary reaction to an irritant or a manifestation of a more severe problem, treating the root cause of coughing is crucial for supporting respiratory health and general wellness.

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This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.