Coughing is your body’s normal reaction when there’s mucus, dust, or something else stuck in your airways. The mucous membrane in your lungs, trachea and/or throat becomes irritated as a result of something being stuck in your airways. Coughing will clear the mucus, dust, or object from your airways.
The seriousness of the cough is determined by the cause. For example, a cough can be a sign of:
- A cold.
- A sinus infection.
- An allergy.
- Lung cancer.
The symptoms differ per type and per cause. The most common types of cough are:
- The normal cough. The mucous membrane in your airways is irritated, resulting in increased mucus production. You cough up the mucus to clear your airways.
- The tickly cough or dry cough. Your upper respiratory tract has been irritated by a virus or irritant(s). Unlike with a normal cough, you don’t cough up mucus. You cough often, for a long time and it’s difficult to get rid of the tickle. This will irritate your airways even more and your throat and lungs will feel sore and dry.
- The expectorant cough. The mucous membrane in your lungs has become inflamed due to an infection, an allergic reaction or harmful substances. This produces thick mucus which gets stuck in your lungs and is difficult to cough up. You cough deeply and often, which will make you short of breath. The shortness of breath goes away once you’ve coughed.
When coughing as a result of a cold, you may also experience:
- A blocked or runny nose.
- A headache.
- Chest pain.
- A sore throat.
You can do the following things to reduce your symptoms when you’re suffering from a cough:
- Make sure the air in the room you’re in is clean. Don’t go to areas where people are smoking, or where there isn’t enough fresh air.
- Don’t try to clear your throat too much. Clearing your throat can actually irritate your throat. This may result in another coughing fit and means you’ll be struggling for a lot longer.
- Use steam to loosen the stuck mucus. Do this whilst hanging your head over a pan of hot water and be very careful not to burn yourself. You don’t need to add anything to the water. Menthol can actually result in more irritation of the mucous membrane in case of stuck mucus.
- A hot drink can sometimes help to loosen the stuck mucus.
- Drink something cold if you have a sore throat.
- Swallow a tablespoon of honey to ease your sore throat. This can certainly also help with a tickly cough. Please note: don’t give honey to children below the age of 1.
- Suck on some licorice to relieve your sore throat. This can also help with a tickly cough.
- Inject saline into a blocked nose. This will keep the nose open and reduce the amount of mucus entering your throat.
- Don’t use cough medicine. These drinks don’t dissolve the mucus and won’t help get rid of the cough faster.
You won’t usually need to see your GP for a cough and it will generally resolve itself within two to three weeks. However, your cough may sometimes need a little further investigation. For example, we recommend you visit your GP immediately if:
- You’re coughing up blood.
- You’re short of breath without doing or having done anything.
- You make a wheezing sound when you breathe.
- You’re drowsy, you have a fever and you’re breathing fast and restlessly.
You should make an appointment with your GP or ask for advice in the following situations. If:
- You have pain in your chest.
- You’ve had a fever for four or more days (your temperature is above 38°C).
- You develop another fever after a few days.
- You are 75 years old or above.
- You have a compromised immune system. (This may be due to, for example, medication or chemotherapy).
- You have been coughing for more than 3 weeks.
- You’re now coughing more often and for longer.
- You suspect you may have corona. Look for more advice in corona. In this case, please don’t visit your GP, but call for advice first. Then follow the advice.