The days may be getting lighter here in the south, but the temperatures are definitely getting colder. Despite it having been the warmest June/July on record, everywhere, after 14 months of it being the warmest months on record, everywhere, there are still frosts on the ground most mornings here where I live. All that just to say that hey, it’s still winter (global warming or not) and with winter comes cold, and with winter also come coughs.
We all know that coughs come in many kinds: infectious (viral, bacterial) or environmental, allergic or asthmatic. There are also the chronic, longstanding coughs of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) aka Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease (bronchitis or emphysema). There can be non-lung related causes of coughs too, reflux (Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD)) being a prime example.
What we want to talk about today, it being seasonal however, are the infectious kinds…
Click here though to read more on asthma, which can be triggered or flare-up in the colder months or with a respiratory infection.
A cough is simply your body’s very clever response to the presence of something in your lower airways- in your trachea (windpipe) or lungs. The cough is triggered by either unwanted debris (dust, smoke etc), inflammation of the tissues, or the production of mucus in those tissues. The cough is designed to get it OUT. Send it back! Tiny hair-like projections called cilia line your trachea and help to continually brush unwanted particles back upwards and out towards the throat. Lower down in the lungs, there are no hairy bits but there are excellent immune troops doing constant surveillance and ready to try to neutralise any intruders.
Almost all coughs are caused by a viral infection, so antibiotics are usually not indicated as a treatment. Secondary bacterial infections can develop however, so it’s always good to check with your GP if in doubt.
There is significant research being done presently on the crucial role of Vitamin D in respiratory health. People with lower levels of Vitamin D get more respiratory infections. Other nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin A all also have essential roles to play in our respiratory health and immune function.
It is important not to overlook the role of underlying food reactivity for some people with congestion. Often people report that they have less respiratory illness, or if they do get sick, they have less mucus production, when they are eating food more suited to them. For some people with food reactivities, the constant production of phlegm in the sinuses or the back of the throat creates a post-nasal drip that triggers a cough. Click here to read about nasal and sinus congestion.
Any factors that impact upon immune function will of course affect our ability to defend ourselves against catching coughs, and our ability to fight them off effectively once they have arrived. Click here to read more about supporting your innate immune function if you suffer from recurrent infections, or are sick of getting sick.
Any parent knows that babies and children can have an increased vulnerability to catching coughs. Bronchiolitis for example is a condition that babies get when their tiny little bronchioles (the smallest airways in the lungs) get clogged with mucus, affecting breathing. Croup and Whooping cough are two other respiratory illnesses more common in children. Keeping our children nourished with the right foods and nutrient levels in balance is key for prevention of illness and speed of recovery.
Herbal medicine provides significant support for soothing and recovering from coughs. Specific herbs possess specific properties that help with:
- Reducing spasm and calming irritation
- Improving the ability of mucus to be removed from the lungs
- Reducing the incidence of secondary bacterial infection
- Aiding in the healing of inflamed tissues in the airways
Herbs such as Thyme, Elecampane, Kumerahou, Hyssop, Marshmallow, Licorice, Mullein, White Horehound, Grindelia and Ribwort are just some of the botanical medicines useful for treating coughs in all ages. Herbal medicine can also help to improve the immune response, thus speeding recovery times. For children especially, it can also be useful to use calming herbs so that they can better sleep through the night.
Home remedies to soothe coughs
- Inhalations with essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint, Olbas Oil, manuka and thyme can help to ease breathing.
- Thyme Tea with honey: use fresh thyme from the garden or dried thyme from the packet. Thyme is anti-microbial and helps reduce mucus production. Honey is also a genuine remedy in itself.
- Spice it up: Ginger, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Fennel, Aniseed can be used as a tea or in cooking to warm up damp chests
- Chest rubs utilising natural ingredients can be purchased or made at home using coconut or olive oil and low dilutions (a few drops) of essential oils as listed above.
- Keep the environment warm, and keep yourself or your child warm too!
- Sipping warm drinks often can be useful to calm a cough, especially when the drinks are soothing medicinal teas as outlined above.