summary about cough

Coughing is a fundamental pulmonary defense mechanism, which allows the removal of unwanted substances and irritants. It should be known that cough is not strictly a disease but a symptom. However, coughing is almost always a pathological process.
Coughing is usually a reflex that occurs after stimulation of the airways (trachea and bronchi), which sends a message to the brain, in the cough center, which will then trigger muscle contraction (particularly of the diaphragm). When mucus or an irritant blocks the airway, the coughing mechanism is used to clear the air passage and facilitate breathing.

This “disease” can have several causes. In autumn and winter, one of the most common causes is some infectious disease (viral or bacterial), which mainly causes a dry cough with expectoration.

Cough should always be taken very seriously in the search for its cause. In fact, in some cases it can be a sign of a more serious illness, such as asthma or cancer (larynx, lung, etc.).

Four different types of cough can be classified: dry cough (or irritating cough without phlegm), cough with sputum (or cough with phlegm), chronic cough and medicinal cough.

Cough is often one of the first signs of a cold and often turns after a few days into a cough with sputum.

Treatment depends on the cause and, if possible, one should always try to treat the cause of the condition. In some cases, we can only treat the symptoms (the cough).

The doctor will prescribe antitussives ( codeine , dextromethorphan) in case of dry cough and thinners ( acetylcysteine ​​) or expectorants in case of cough with expectoration. In case of cough with sputum or productive, it is very important not to use antitussives (except when medically indicated), because it must be allowed to “mature”.

Phytotherapy can be a good alternative for treatment, particularly cough with sputum or productive. There are a large number of medicinal plants to prevent or treat coughs. We mention here the main plants used: thyme, marsh root, guaco and lungwort.

The main tips are:

– Treat as soon as possible (to avoid complications)

– Drink plenty of fluids, especially hot drinks (teas) with honey

– Humidify the rooms (lack of humidity causes coughing)

Finally, for you or your family to avoid coughing:

– Avoid smoking and exposure to tobacco

– Wash your hands frequently to avoid transmission of susceptible organisms (bacteria, viruses)


A cough is the sudden and noisy expulsion, reflex or voluntary, which ensures the expulsion of air (the speed of expulsion can reach 900 km/h), contained in the lungs, it is a reaction of the body to an irritation, it is a life reflex.

Cough is almost always a pathological process.

Coughing is a necessary evil that allows the expulsion of undesirable substances (dust, foreign bodies), or the expression of a serious illness. However, cough is not a disease, but the symptom of other diseases or infections.

Coughing also aims to protect the lungs.

A continuous cough can become irritating to the body and must be treated. A person with a recurrent cough may have the diameter of their bronchial tubes decreased.

Mucus, what is it?
Mucus is mainly composed of water and mucin glycoproteins, which are very long strands of protein coated with polysaccharides – a type of sugar molecule.1 . Mucus viscosity is determined by proteins called “trefoil factors”that bind to mucin glycoproteins, which are very long strands of protein coated with unique sugar molecules. You should know that a healthy amount of mucus is very important to capture and eliminate possible threats to the lungs, such as dust particles, dead cells and bacteria.

cough mechanism

In the event of an external attack (diseases, microbes), the upper respiratory tracts, such as the throat or trachea, which are provided with receptors, are stimulated and send a message to the brain (at the level of the cough center). Then, the brain reacts immediately causing the glottis to close and muscle contraction, particularly at the level of the diaphragm, resulting in cough.


Since the cough is a symptom of another disease or infection, the search for causes is essential in therapy.

The causes of cough can be:

– A cold : usually caused by one or several viruses. It is estimated that around 90% of acute coughs are caused by viruses.

– A rhinitis and/or sinusitis .

– The cold, which can irritate the respiratory tract.

– Various infectious diseases: pneumonia , tuberculosis , whooping cough , diphtheria, Covid-19 .

– Smoke, which can irritate the respiratory tract.

– acute bronchitis

– Chronic bronchitis or smoker’s cough, the latter increasingly frequent.

– Asma

– Allergy (allergic rhinitis)

– Side effects or undesirable effects of certain medications (generally enzyme inhibitors converting angiotension (captopril), indicated, for example, to treat hypertension)

– Pulmonary embolism

– Reflux of liquid from the stomach into the esophagus ( stomach burning )

– heart failure

– Postnasal flow (postnasaldrainage)

– Upper Airway Cough Syndrome

– Legionelose


We can highlight 4 types of cough, the symptoms of which are different:

1. Dry cough (irritating cough without phlegm)

It is a non-productive cough (without evacuation of secretion), useless, tiring and that can sometimes aggravate existing lesions.

– The causes of a dry cough can be: colds or otitis. It is usually the symptom of the beginning of the cold .

2. Productive cough (cough with phlegm)

It brings sputum, useful for clearing the airways.

– The causes of a productive cough can be: bronchitis , chronic bronchitis, emphysema, advanced stage of a cold , ….

3. Chronic cough

This cough persists for more than two months and is always the symptom of an underlying disease to be investigated. It is advisable to quickly seek medical attention when this type of cough is observed.
– The possible causes of a chronic cough can be: ENT (ears, nose and larynx), bronchi: asthma , chronic bronchitis, smoking, cancer, digestive system, reflux , heart, heart failure .

4. Cough as a result of medication

Usually provoked by angiotension conversion enzyme inhibitors (captopril, enalapril,…), the basis of medicines used in the treatment of hypertension. Consult your doctor if you suspect anything, to change the medication.


Cough is a symptom of a disease (infectious, chronic,…), it is possible that the cough is a sign of serious complications. This is the case, for example, of pneumonia , an infectious disease that must be taken very seriously. So, when the cough is suspected, one should consult the doctor.

In some cases, the cough can also cause fatigue or, on the contrary, agitation, causing insomnia. Coughing can sometimes lead to chest pain, especially after repeated contraction of the diaphragm (muscle active in coughing mechanism).

If the cough is violent (very strong and repeated) the following complications can be observed: damage to the bronchi and lungs, pneumothorax, some forms of hemorrhage, fracture of ribs (in frail patients), etc.

A person with a recurrent cough may have the diameter of their bronchial tubes decreased.

When to see the doctor?

We advise you to consult a doctor if:

– the cough is accompanied by shortness of breath (difficulty breathing, painful breathing), for example in cases of whooping cough or asthma;

– the cough is frequent (day and night) or chronic (several months);

– if there is weight loss;

– when there is severe headache;

– when the fever is high (above 38◦C);

– if the mucus (or spit) has an unusual color (brown, pink,…) and especially if you detect blood in the mucus;

– if the cough does not improve after several days of self-medication (cough syrup, medicinal plants,…)

– recurrent (recurrent) pneumonia

– vomit

– swallowing disorders when eating

Any suspicious symptoms, please consult your doctor.


Depending on the type of cough, a different medication will be used (syrup, tablet):

1. Against dry cough or irritating cough without phlegm, remedy based on:

– dextromethorphan, sold as cough drops, pills or syrups.

– codeine , available in pills, drops or cough syrups.

– H1 antihistamines (anti-allergic), available in cough syrups.

– clobutinol hydrochloride, sold in syrups.

2. Against productive cough or cough with phlegm

Reminder (unless indicated by the doctor): do not use antitussives such as codeine or dextromethorphan, in case of cough with sputum or productive. Because in this type of cough it is important to remove the mucus to “mature” it. Cough suppressants tend to block this process.

We use expectorants or fluidifiers.

– Expectorants can be saline (ammonii chloridium,…) or extracted from plants (guaifenisin or ipecac base)

– Fluidifiers ( acetylcysateine ) reduce mucus viscosity.

Herbal Remedies:

Pine bud , ivy , marsh root .

3. Against chronic coughs (read under symptoms for more information about this cough).

Calm the cough according to whether it is dry or productive. In all cases, always consult a doctor, as this cough hides or can hide an underlying disease (cancer).

4. Against all medicinal coughs, consult your doctor to change your treatment or find another solution.

In 2016, the Cochrane review (DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011914.pub2 ) explicitly positioned itself against the use of codeine and its derivatives in children under 12 years of age. According to the researchers, this study highlighted the absence of randomized clinical trials evaluating codeine-based drugs in the treatment of chronic cough in children.

Medicinal plants

The plants below have been shown to be effective in combating coughs, most of them have an expectorant or disinfectant effect ( thyme , plantago lanceolata, pine).

– Guaco , plant used in teas, syrups,…

– Thyme , a plant with a strong disinfectant action, used in teas, cough syrups or oils. A study published in 2018 in Phytotherapy Research (DOI: 10.1002/ptr.6109 ) showed a strong antiviral and antibacterial activity of thyme.

– Mullein , a plant that acts as an expectorant, especially when used in teas.

– Pine , a plant that acts as an expectorant, especially when used in teas.

– Eucalyptus , effective plant when used in teas, drops, syrups or oils.

– Fennel ( fennel ), an expectorant plant, used in teas.

– Maltese root , an expectorant plant, used in teas.

– Ground ivy , an expectorant plant sold as a ready-made medicine (never make your own ivy-based medicine!)

– Malva , medicinal plant used for dry cough or sore throat. Available in syrups, candies or teas.

– Cetraria islândica , plant used for dry cough and sore throat, used in teas or candies.

– Tanchagem , a plant with a disinfectant and expectorant action, effective against coughs and other infections in the mouth and throat, used in teas and cough syrups.

– Lungwort , an expectorant and emollient plant, effective against coughing, used in teas.

– Licorice , an expectorant plant, used in teas, candies or syrups.

natural remedies

Here are two very effective cough home remedies to treat a cough. These are syrups:

– garlic syrup

– guaco syrup

– pine bud syrup

– guaco syrup

– elderberry syrup

– thyme syrup

– transaction syrup

Against the cough closer to bronchitis, the plasters below can have a favorable effect :

– potato poultice

– mustard poultice


– Make inhalations: it can be with essential oils based on plants such as thyme , eucalyptus or chamomile , with very hot or boiling water.

– Drink hot drinks (avoid cold drinks). Like teas based on medicinal plants, for example, thyme tea with sugar and, above all, with honey.
In case of cough it is important to drink plenty of fluids, you can drink fruit juice, but avoid alcoholic beverages and soft drinks.

– Apply ointments based on essential oils on the skin, rubbing, such as, for example, based on menthol or camphor. Never apply ointments containing camphor or menthol on children younger than 30 months, in which case use special baby formulas.

– Suck cough drops (honey-based or herbal mixture based on pine, mallow or Icelandic Cetraria). According to recent studies, it would be the effect of the sugar itself (or the tablet) that favors salivation and thus allows a better treatment of cough than the plants themselves.

– Make or buy cough syrups, such as elderberry syrup .

– In cases of setback, especially in cases of nocturnal coughing attacks, lift your head.

– Decrease, or better yet, stop smoking. Smoking favors coughs, especially the famous smoker’s cough.

Jeanne Kenney
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I’m a stylist trainer, a content creator, and an entrepreneur passion. Virgo sign and Pisces ascendant, I move easily between my dreams, the crazy world I want, and my feet on the ground to carry out my projects.

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