Coughs can be categorised into two groups: dry (unproductive) and wet (productive). Which one have you got?
Have a persistent itchy feeling in the back of your throat that cannot be soothed by water? That’s a dry cough, and you’ll also find it often follows a bout of sore throat, feels raspy and comes without phlegm.
Usually a common component of allergies and colds, this is often treated by an antihistamine (to dampen the immune system’s overenthusiastic response to throat irritants) and a decongestant (to flush out irritants).
Now if a dry cough wears on without relief, your lungs begin to react by producing more mucous (also known as phlegm, sputum or expectorant) to isolate and expel the irritants, be they bacteria or allergens.
This results in a wet (doctors call it ‘productive’) cough. These are often caused by asthma, bacterial sinusitis, respiratory tract infections, or even heart burn. The name defines it: a productive wet cough will give you lots of phlegm, and you’ll be clearing your throat a lot of the time and coughing out discharge, which is often green or yellow.
Cough no more
Cough mixtures are the most common remedy for coughs. But like coughs, they are not all created equal. Dry coughs should be treated with antitussives ( which control the body’s urge to cough), while wet productive coughs should be treated with expectorants, which help to dislodge mucus from the respiratory tract.
Therefore, don’t just stick one generic type of cough mixture in your medicine cabinet and hope it works for every occasion. Selecting the right cough mixture for your cough will help you get it right – and prevent you from taking the wrong medicine to boot.
Bewildered by the large array of cough mixtures sold at pharmacies? For dry coughs, pick one that has antitussives, antihistamine and decongestants.
If you’re unclear on what to get, always ask the pharmacist for what works well for your cough. That is what they are there for.
A cough should not last longer than 3 weeks. A chronic wet cough can be symptomatic of serious illnesses, such as lung cancer, pneumonia (see last issue), chronic bronchitis, or be a case of emphysema – a chronic irreversible decline of your lungs.
So when cough mixtures don’t work, it really is time for you to finally cough out some real money, and see what your doctor has to say.
Health & fitness