With the recent whooping cough NZ outbreak, there will be many parents who are worried when their children get a cough. So I thought this week we should have a look at the different types of cough, what causes coughs and some cough remedies.
A cough can be a voluntary or involuntary reflex used to remove foreign objects from the airways. It involves an intake of breath followed by a sudden expulsion of air. Not all coughs need to be a worry and there are lots of cold and flu bugs going round at the moment, where the cough is just one symptom. Many viruses or bacteria actually use the cough in order to infect other people; so don’t forget to cough into your elbow. There are also coughs that are not caused by bacteria or viral infections. These are usually chronic and caused by things like emphysema, smoking, asthma, heart disease, medications or digestive issues.
In general coughs can either be productive, in that you cough up sputum, or dry. As naturopaths we look at whether the sputum is clear or with a green/yellow tinge indicating a bacterial infection has set in. Also when we look at working with a cough we check if people are having trouble coughing up the mucous, when it is not viscous enough. Before we look a good ways of working with cough, let’s have a closer look at 2 distinct types of cough; croup and whooping cough.
Whooping cough (Pertusis)
Whooping cough is caused by a bacterial infection of the respiratory system and is highly contagious. It causes uncontrollable coughing and can be contracted by all ages (whooping cough adults and children), but is more common and dangerous in children. The sound of the cough is distinctive, which is why it is named whooping cough due to the "whoop" sound of inhale air after coughing. The persistence of the coughing can lead to vomiting. The initial symptoms are the same as cold and flu, but continue to get worse until the severe coughing fits set in, causing children to become red and have trouble getting a breath.
This type of cough is caused by a virus, which affects the upper part of the windpipe known as the larynx. The virus causes inflammation and the larynx goes into spasm causing a harsh barking cough. It also feels tight across the lungs and there may be extra mucous. The swelling of the windpipe also makes it hard to breath. This condition mostly affects small children and babies, who have much smaller airways. Generally symptoms get worse at night. Although it sounds bad there is no major cause for alarm and it should go away on its own.
Here is a useful link on WebMD, where you can listen to the different sounds of cough. If you have any concerns about your child cough have a listen. http://children.webmd.com/pertussis-whooping-cough-10/coughing-sounds
Cough remedy ideas
There are a number of great herbs that can be used very effectively with coughs, depending on the types of symptoms you are experiencing.
Ivy leaf (Hedera) works well for both wet and dry coughs, help relieve sinusitism and a buildup of congestion and catarrah. This is because Ivy Leaf has banti-bacterial, anti-parasitic and decongestant properties, helping to soothe the throat and help clear the airways suitable for adults and children. This has been supported by scientific studies and Ivy Leaf is now recognised as an effective medicine to treat the inflammation of the respiratory tract.
Ivy leaf extract helps to liquefy the mucus, ease throat and chest inflammation and calm the cough associated with bronchitis. The main components of ivy leaf that give it its health benefits are called saponins. The saponins trigger a response or irritation in the gut mucosa which then leads to stimulation of the mucous glands in the bronchioles which is essentially a reflex reaction.
The saponins in ivy leaf increase secretions in the respiratory tract which helps to thin out mucus in the chest, making it easier to ‘cough up’. Thick and tenacious mucus will stimulate the cough reflex. By thinning out and clearing the congestion, the cough reflex is not stimulated.
Additionally if you have an irritated dry cough then herbs like liquorice root, mullein and marsh mallow soothe the lining of the throat and stop irritation. They are known as demulcents - meaning they help liquify the mucous to make it easier to cough up.
I like thyme as it is a great upper respiratory herb for wintertime. It helps kill the bugs and reduce the spasming of persistent coughs. Another herb for those persistent coughs is wild cherry bark. Homoeopathically Drosera is a great remedy for an annoying dry coughs, especially those that start up as soon as you lie down at night. If you have nothing at home you can have some warm water with honey and lemon, as honey is antimicrobial and soothes the lining of the throat.
When looking at nutrients for the respiratory system vitamin c, zinc and vitamin a are all very important in terms of supporting the immune system and healing the mucous membranes.
Finally for relaxing the airways and liquefying mucous steam inhalations are useful. If you have nothing else you can just use steam or you can add some drops of manuka, tea tree or eucalyptus oil.
We recommend at Clinicians that if you have a child under 2 with a cough you should have them checked out by the doctor before you try any of these things out.