Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Costa Navarro
What is cough?
Cough is a defense mechanism put in place to eliminate irritants from the airways (e.g. dust, smoke, foreign bodies such as a crumb of bread, mucus etc.). It is not, in itself, a disease but a disorder that often accompanies other diseases that cause irritation of the airways and/or excessive production of mucus (e.g. flu, asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, etc.). Being a defense mechanism it is good keep it as effective as possible, otherwise it would deprive the body of a useful natural reaction. This does not mean, however, to accept cough as a normal fact: the morning cough of smokers is not a normal thing, but the evident sign of continuous damage to the respiratory system destined to worsen over time if you do not stop smoking!
How it manifests itself
A dry cough, characterized by the absence of sputum, causes irritation and burning of the throat and upper parts of the bronchi. Catarrhal cough, on the other hand, produces abundant mucus which can be colorless or white or, in the presence of infection, greenish-yellow.
What are the risks
Coughing can also be a symptom of a serious lung or heart disease: a persistent cough for a few weeks requires a medical examination to understand its origin, as well as a cough that occurs after a banal physical effort, such as getting on the stairs, in a person over 50. A too intense and persistent cough can cause harm to patients who suffer from heart disease or who have rib fractures.
What should be done
- Drink a lot and often (especially hot drinks such as tea, milk and broth) to reduce irritation of the upper respiratory tract and obtain an emollient effect on secretions.
- Inhale steam and maintain adequate humidity in the rooms (in this regard, remember the importance of always keeping the trays hung on the radiators supplied with water or using electric humidifiers); check that the ambient temperature does not exceed 20 °C.
- Do not smoke or stay in environments where cigarette smoke is present. Above all, do not smoke in the environments where children live: children children of smokers suffer from a greater number of bronchitic episodes than their peers children of non-smokers!
- Preferably sleep on your stomach to prevent the phlegm from causing a cough while resting.
- In general it is good to avoid drugs that calm the cough: in case of dry and unproductive cough they can delay a diagnosis; in case of catarrhal cough they prevent the elimination of secretions and germs responsible for infection.
- Use antitussive or expectorant drugs only if the cough is very intense and unproductive, or in patients with other diseases where it is good to avoid the efforts imposed by the cough or, finally, if the cough prevents normal rest or normal performance of the work activity .
- Self-medication, that is, those that can be purchased in pharmacies without a prescription, should only be used for a few days, while more prolonged use should be evaluated by the doctor. Drugs that contain only one active substance should always be preferred: it is good practice to always be advised by the doctor or pharmacist for the most suitable product.
- Some antitussive drugs contain substances that have a sedative effect and therefore care should be taken when driving or working with machines that require quick reflexes. It is also important not to drink alcohol, which depresses reflexes even more.
- Diabetic patients should always prefer sugar-free cough products.
- Keep antitussive syrups out of the reach of children: their pleasant taste may invite a small child to ingest excessive quantities.