Coughing is the body’s natural cleansing mechanism to clear the airways of large amounts of mucus or foreign materials. Mucus may be coughed up, but also smoke and dust particles. Coughing removes these from the throat, trachea and lungs. You can safely swallow coughed up mucus, because it leaves the body via the stomach and intestines. A distinction is made between productive cough, in which mucus is produced, and non-productive cough, in which no mucus is coughed up. The latter is also called tickly cough, tickling cough or dry cough. Both forms of cough require a different approach to reduce the complaints.
- Remedies for tickly cough
- General advice for tickly cough
- Cough suppressants
- Remedies for persistent coughs
- Coughing up mucus: general advice
- Mucus thinners
- Cough syrup for both persistent cough and dry cough
Remedies for tickly cough
With tickly cough you can sometimes cough so much that it causes irritation of the throat and airways, which maintains or worsens the cough. It is important to break this vicious circle.
Do not smoke with tickly cough / Source: Serhiy Kobyakov/Shutterstock.com
General advice for tickly cough
If you have tickly cough, observe the following general advice:
- Make sure the air is not too dry;
- Avoid (secondary) smoking;
- Avoid cold and drafts;
- Ensure sufficient ventilation;
- Don’t talk too much;
- A spoonful of honey, a licorice or a piece of candy can remove the coughing stimulus somewhat;
- Drink plenty of water or tea.
Cough suppressants are used for non-productive coughs, such as those found with viral infections. According to the literature, it is still not clear whether and, if so, how cough suppressants work.¹ So far, there is a lack of good research into these drugs. Cough suppressants include:
- Codeine . Codeine is mainly used for a combination of cough and flu or flu-like complaints, such as (muscle) pain and high fever. The GP can also opt for the combination of paracetamol with codeine.
- Dextromethorphan . Dextromethorphan reduces the tendency to cough. This effect lasts about three to six hours, but there are also delayed-release capsules that work for about eight hours. You can use this medicine in the normal dosage during pregnancy. However, this drug should not be used just before delivery, as this may cause difficulty in breathing in the newborn. You should also not use this medicine if you are breastfeeding. It is not known whether this drug is harmful to the baby.
- Noscapine . Noscapine (in a cough syrup) has a cough suppressant effect and after ingestion the tendency to cough will decrease within 1 hour and this effect lasts for an average of 4 hours. You can safely use noscapine in normal doses during pregnancy. If you are breastfeeding, it is recommended that you first consult your doctor before using this medicine.
Remedies for persistent coughs
Coughing up mucus is a normal physical phenomenon and is a mechanism of the body to get rid of mucus. Coughing is useful in the presence of mucus in the airways and is therefore called a productive cough.
Coughing up mucus: general advice
Observe the following general advice if coughing up mucus becomes more difficult, i.e. if you have a persistent cough:
- Make sure you don’t smoke or second-hand smoke;
- Drink plenty of fluids, preferably warm drinks such as tea (because this thins the mucus);
- Eat as little fatty products and dairy products as possible;
- Honey (in tea) often has a soothing effect and keeps the throat supple;
- Avoid areas with low humidity;
- Take enough rest; and
- Try to avoid talking for long periods of time.
Steaming is not recommended, as many people, especially children, suffer serious burns every year when they steam over a bath or basin with hot water. The tub tips over quite often, with all the consequences that entails.
The coughing will stop on its own once all the mucus has been coughed up and gone. If you cough up mucus quite easily, you basically don’t have to do anything. Remember that productive cough is useful and that you should therefore not suppress it with cough suppressants, as with tickly cough.
If coughing up mucus becomes more difficult, you can use the following remedies:
- Mucus thinners with acetylcysteine . Acetylcysteine is a mucus thinner, which thins tough mucus in the airways. This makes you better able to cough up the mucus. It is available in powder or effervescent tablet, lozenge, capsule and cough syrup. In normal doses it can be used during pregnancy. You can also use it safely while breastfeeding, provided you do not use more than 200 mg acetylcysteine 3 times a day or 600 mg acetylcysteine once a day
- Mucus thinners with bromhexine . Bromhexine is a mucus thinner, which thins tough mucus in the airways. This makes you better able to cough up the mucus. Do not use this cough syrup in children under 2 years of age, as they are not able to cough up the mucus properly. The effect of the cough syrup starts after about 5 hours, but the effect is only maximum after a few days of use. So don’t stop taking the drug too quickly. It is not only available as a cough syrup, but also as tablets or drops. You can safely use the drug in the normal dosage during pregnancy. The same goes for breastfeeding.
Cough syrup for both persistent cough and dry cough
Bronchostop cough syrup is a traditional herbal medicine that relieves persistent cough due to tough mucus, ticklish or tickly cough and/or sore throat caused by a cold, for example. Bronchostop cough syrup is suitable for adults and children aged 6 years and over. The cough syrup does not contain alcohol and is sugar-free. The product also contains no ingredients that are known to make you sleepy or drowsy. Bronchostop cough syrup is suitable for people with diabetes.
- Pharmacotherapeutic Compass. Remedies for coughs and colds. Updated until October 1, 2014. www.farmacotherapeutischkompas.nl/inleidingendeteksten/i/inl%20middels%20bij%20hoest%20en%20verkoudheid.asp
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