A cough is not a disease, it is a symptom that can be treated. It can be dry or oily, acute or chronic. It is a defence reflex, aimed at expelling viruses that irritate the respiratory tract. So, how can you treat a cough naturally? Discover our cough remedies today.
Why do we cough?
Winter is approaching, the cold is back and soon the first snow will fall in Belgium and the rest of Europe. While the media reports announce a new wave of coronavirus, they also warn of the dangers of the flu, which is back in force. The same goes for colds, sore throats and bronchitis. With all these illnesses, coughing, sneezing and blowing one's nose are back. But why?
A cough is a forced and sudden exhalation, accompanied by a hoarse sound coming from the throat. The air in the lungs gets stuck in the irritated airways and tries to get out, often in pain. Coughing is therefore a natural reflex to expel mucus. This is why you should not try to hold back your cough.
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The irritation caused by viruses activates receptors in the mucous membranes of the trachea and bronchi. This mechanism triggers contractions of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. Coughing frees the airways such as the larynx from sources of aggression.
Coughing occurs day and night, in fits and starts or continuously, as long as the irritation is not treated. You should know that lying down favours its appearance and can thus cause sleep disorders. However, it rarely occurs on its own and is most often accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, aches and pains, fatigue, fever and sometimes nausea. Before a cough can be treated, it is important to know its characteristics, as each type of cough is cured differently.
Dry cough or wet cough?
Not all coughs are the same and the type depends on the stage of irritation, which is why there are syrups for dry coughs and wet coughs, for example.
- A dry cough will tend to scratch the throat and irritate without spitting or mucus;
- A wet cough, on the other hand, leaves an impression of stuck mucus and is accompanied by translucent or thick green sputum. It can sometimes contain blood, as the force of breathing damages the vessels of the oesophagus.
Regardless of the type of cough, it can occur in short, fleeting episodes or in long, difficult, repetitive bouts.
When the cough is recent and less than three weeks old, it is said to be acute. Between three and eight weeks of symptoms, it becomes sub-acute and beyond eight weeks, it is called chronic cough.
Diseases that cause coughing
Coughing is usually caused by a viral infection, but it can sometimes be due to other diseases such as asthma, allergies or acid reflux. It is a symptom associated with many different diseases, so it is difficult to make a diagnosis with this symptom alone. If it is common in adults, it is even more common in children, as they develop their immune system until they are at least 6 years old and are therefore more sensitive to attacks on the airways.
Causes of acute cough
In most cases, this type of cough is caused by infectious respiratory or ear, nose and throat diseases, i.e. viral infections of the bronchi or larynx. More rarely, it is possible that the disorder is caused by bacteria in the respiratory tract.
Diseases that cause coughing are:
- Whooping cough.
Causes of chronic cough
Some of the above-mentioned diseases can lead to a chronic cough. This is the case, for example, with allergic rhinitis, bronchitis and whooping cough, where the cough lasts several weeks. Asthma in infants and children, but also in adults, can occur only with a chronic cough.
In addition, aggravating factors are often responsible for the cough, such as active or passive smoking, pollution, the presence of asbestos or the use of medicines with side effects. This is particularly the case with beta-blockers in eye drops for the treatment of glaucoma or angina pectoris.
Coughing is a direct consequence of certain diseases, such as heart failure, pulmonary tuberculosis, lung cancer or cystic fibrosis.
How to treat a cough naturally?
If you have a cough, your doctor will probably have prescribed a cough syrup to stop a dry cough or an expectorant and bronchial fluid to treat a wet cough. But what if you prefer to avoid medication and opt for natural treatments? Here are a few easy phytotherapy tips that you can make with ingredients from your kitchen
Grog, an effective grandmother's remedy
Don't worry, this miracle drink also works well without alcohol. Take a glass of lukewarm water or herbal tea, pour in the juice of half a lemon, a good spoonful of honey and a few spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves and even pepper, perfect for unblocking the nose and softening the throat.
Lemon is antibacterial and honey is known to reduce airway irritation and apply a protective layer to the bronchial tubes, which is perfect for soothing a cough before bed. Its antibacterial and antibiotic properties make it a more effective cough ointment than most drug treatments, according to a scientific review published in the British Medical Journal in 2020. Ginger reduces sore throats through its anti-inflammatory properties.
If you're not a tea person, skip the hot water and make your own syrup from the ingredients mentioned.
Inhalation to unblock sinuses
Eucalyptus essential oil reduces flu symptoms, relieves sore throats and coughs and clears the airways. Similarly, the essential oil extracted from thyme leaves and flowers contains flavonoids and thymol, known for their antispasmodic properties, which clear the bronchi and sinuses.
Infusion of plants
Here is a non-exhaustive list of calming or expectorant plants, which facilitate the evacuation of mucus, to be taken as an herbal tea (or inhalation):
- For fatty coughs: climbing ivy, fennel, primrose, black elder, onion;
- For dry coughs: thyme, white broth, marshmallow, rosemary.
Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of a mixture of thyme and climbing ivy in the treatment of coughs in children.
Also read: 10 plants for better sleep
Hydration by all means
To get rid of a cough, drink plenty of water: mineral water, tea, broth, whatever form you prefer. Water helps to liquefy and thin the mucus. Force yourself to secrete a lot of saliva, by keeping a little water in your mouth to hydrate it or by sucking on lozenges. Saliva helps to cure dry coughs.
Mix mustard with a little flour and water to form a paste, which you place on a small towel. Hold it under your nose or on your chest to clear the airways. You can replace the mustard with mint.
Whether you have the flu or are prone to allergies, coughing is an energy-draining and painful symptom. While they won't cure the original illness, our natural cough remedies will help you get rid of your cough, whether it's a dry one or a wet one. We also recommend you read our article on how to cure winter flu naturally.