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Health Tips / Coughs

Diagnosis and Symptoms

Coughing is part of the body's defence mechanism to expel any unwelcome organism or irritant, such as pollen or smoke, from the body, in order to prevent the development of infection or further irritation and inflammation. Coughs are often one of the symptoms or a cold, flu, or even a bad attack of hayfever.

Dry coughs (non-productive coughs) do not produce any phlegm or mucus. Treatment will focus on preventing the cough mechanism. In some cases, an irritating cough can result from "post-nasal drip", when a person lies on down, mucous can flow to the back of their airways, causing irritation and coughing. If you are coughing up blood, experience a sharp chest pain when coughing, or have suffered from a cough for a prolonged time, it is advisable to consult your doctor. A persistent dry hard barking type cough may be associated with asthma, in which case your doctor should be consulted.

Chesty coughs (productive coughs) are associated with excess secretions from the lungs and may be due to a cold or flu. If the mucous and phlegm is coloured, it often indicates the presence of infection, which could require a consultation with your doctor. Clear secretions suggest that there is no infection present. Treatment will focus on clearing the secretions/mucous from the chest. In some cases, a runny nose or nasal congestion is associated with the cough, due to the nasal secretions draining into the airways. At other times, the phlegm can become tightly compacted in the chest and become very difficult to bring-up irrespective of the amount of coughing. This type of cough may initially appear to be a dry cough but is in fact a productive cough.

Preventative measures

Even by staying away from those who have coughs or colds, will not prevent you getting the illness. You can however, reduce the chances of somebody else getting your cough if it is associated with a cold or flu. The spread of the bacteria or viruses can be reduced by making sure to cover your mouth when you cough, disposing of all tissues and washing your hands very regularly. For those, for which the cough is associated with hayfever, suitable anti-histamine medications should be taken.

Check below for more tips on reducing the effects of hayfever.

In the case of cough resulting from asthma your doctor may prescribe a suitable preventative medication. Those affected with coughs or colds should probably stay at home, until the infection has cleared rather than transmitting the illness to their colleagues and friends.

Coughing may be the result of smoking or passive smoking.

Your doctor will be able to advise you on the merits of being vaccinated against the flu.

Non-prescription treatments

If the cough is associated with a cold, a flu or hayfever, other medicines may be required to treat the underlying problem. Cough suppressants are used to prevent a dry cough and should only be used if there is no mucous present. Expectorants are used to treat a productive cough, causing the person to "expectorate" or cough-up the secretions. When deciding on a cough treatment, it should always be clearly ascertained if it is a dry or a productive cough that is being treated. Suppressing a productive cough will result in sections remaining with in the chest, which become a medium for further viral or bacterial growth and just worsen the problem. While mistakenly using an expectorant to treat a dry cough, will just make the user cough even more.

Further information on the medicines listed above including dosages is available at

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Last update: 16/05/2013 12:38 • Previous update: 30/11/-0001 00:00