A cough is a sudden, explosive expulsion of air from
the lungs, usually caused by the need to expel something
from the air passages. Productive coughing brings up
mucus (referred to as sputum or phlegm) while an unproductive,
dry cough does not.
Different cough sounds may be signals of different,
If your cough persists, seek the assistance of a qualified
Examples of coughs include:
- Constant, severe coughing
with thick mucus production, which may signal chronic
bronchitis (bronchitis often associated with smoking
or passive smoke exposure).
- A very dry cough with profound symptoms of fever and
fatigue, which may signal an approaching severe bout
of acute bronchitis. (Viral bronchitis usually has a
persistent cough that disturbs sleep.)
- Dry coughs that are usually worse at night may signal
bronchospasm (temporary narrowing of the bronchi, the
larger tubes of airways) that can be associated with
asthma, infection, or allergies.
- Allergic coughs may occur along with runny nose and
wheezing, or begin after certain foods are consumed
or at different times of the year.
- Coughing associated with changes of posture suggest
lung abscess or other severe diseases, while coughs
associated with eating may suggest serious swallowing
or trachea problems. Coughs due to exercise or cold
air may signal asthma.
- In young children with inflammation of the respiratory
tract, the airways can narrow so much that it produces
a hoarse metallic cough called the croup.
- Persistent short, mild, dry coughs in the spring may
signal hay fever. Rattles of secretions associated with
a dry, barking cough may signal an infection of the
trachea, while pneumonia (lung inflammation secondary
to infection) usually produces painful coughing associated
with flecks of blood.
a hoarse metallic cough called the croup.
- Cancers of the airways may produce a mild cough at first
that gets worse and then produces mucus that is blood-flecked.
What To Consider
Sputum (expectorated matter) produced with the cough
signals the following: changes (white to yellowish,
green, or brown) mean that an infection is involved;
blood streaking means infection is getting worse and
requires the immediate attention of a Health Coach; gritty
material in sputum may mean a serious condition of the
lungs called broncholithiasis—inflammation or obstruction
caused by calculi (stones, usually formed by mineral
salts) in the bronchi.
Coughing may also be due to a simple illness, like upper
respiratory infection or the common cold, or may signal
a more serious illness. It may also be due to irritation
from the environment (smoke, dust, pollens), be caused
by mucus dripping in back of the throat, be a sign of
nervousness, or be a symptom of an underlying health
Important questions to ask about your cough in order
to determine what it might be a signal of include:
long has it occurred?
- Did it start suddenly?
- Has it
- What factors make it worse? What time
of day does it most frequently occur?
- Is your cough
accompanied by the production of mucus?
- If so, what
color is the mucus?
- Are you experiencing any other pains
- Is your cough associated with work or exercise?
Proper treatment of your cough depends entirely on the
Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
If blood appears in the sputum it may be due to a rupturing
of blood vessels in airways, lungs, nose, or throat
secondary to causes that may be mild or serious and
need to be evaluated. Blood may appear as bright red
or rusty-brown streaks, pinkish froth, or bright red
pure blood. In cases of such coughs a chest X ray may
be advisable. If X rays show abnormalities, if you are
over 40 and/or a smoker, or if you have coughed up blood
before, you may need a bronchoscopy, a procedure that
allows for direct viewing of the lungs by insertion
of a soft, flexible tube. One-third of people undergoing
this procedure are found to have no underlying serious
A cough is an important diagnostic signal from your
body and should not be simply suppressed. Any long-standing
or intransigent coughing should receive professional
medical attention. Although home treatment is safe and
effective for minor coughs of short duration or coughs
associated with mild infections, if in doubt seek prompt
whole foods, especially lots of raw fruits and vegetables.
Also avoid mucus-producing foods, such as sugar, salty
foods, dairy products, and starches. In cases of dry
cough unrelated to other conditions, umeboshi plum paste
can be very soothing.
You can also make a cough syrup from eight ounces of
warm pineapple juice and two teaspoons of honey. The
bromelain in the pineapple juice is activated by the
honey. As an alternative, mix the juice of one lemon
with two tablespoons of glycerine, then add 12 teaspoons
of honey and stir before each use. Take one teaspoon
every 30 minutes, reducing as needed. (Do not refrigerate.)
Another useful kitchen remedy is to slice an onion into
a deep bowl and cover in honey, letting stand overnight.
The next morning, strain the mixture of juice and honey
and take one teaspoon four or five times a day.
Zinc lozenges, vitamin A, vitamin C with bioflavonoids,
vitamin E, and folic acid are all useful nutrients for
Steam with thyme, benzoin, eucalyptus, frankincense, myrrh, peppermint,
sandalwood, chamomile, or juniper essential oils. Add
a few drops of the essential oil to water, bring to
a boil, then allow to simmer. Place your head over the
pan of simmering water, covering your head with a towel
and inhale for 10-20 minutes.
horehound, and mullein are safe and effective for children
and adults. Use as an infusion at least three times
a day until your symptoms abate.
For a dry irritating cough, use an infusion of marshmallow
For cough with mucus, make a tea of 1/2 teaspoon ginger
powder, a pinch of clove, and a pinch of cinnamon powder
in one cup of water. In addition, gargle a solution
made from one pinch of salt and two pinches of tumeric
powder added to glass of water.
For chronic coughs, make a confection of one part sesame
seeds (black seeds if possible) and 1/2 part shatavari.
Add ginger and raw sugar to taste and take one ounce
Crab Apple can be helpful if your cough is due to infection.
For dry coughs: Belladonna, Aconite, Drosera, Bryonia,
Phosphorus, Hyoscyamus, rumex, and
spongia. These least three remedies must be taken
alone, not in combination with other remedies.
For loose coughs: Ipecac, Merc sol., Pulsatilla,
Kali bich., and Kali carb are all useful
Apply a hot water pack to your chest as needed to aid in expectoration.
Steam inhalation can also be helpful.
Drink lots of fresh-squeezed, organic fruit and vegetable juices. Hot
pear juice with cinnamon stick and added cardamon and
cumin is a very useful juice remedy for coughs that
are not serious in nature.
If your symptoms persist despite the above measures,
seek the help of a qualified health professional.
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