Coughing is a symptom of various diseases, but also a protective mechanism of the body. Here you will learn how coughing develops and how to get rid of it.
What is coughing?
Most of the time we find coughing rather annoying – it often arises from illnesses like colds or asthma. Coughing is not only a symptom but also an important and effective protective reflex of the body: it enables us to expel mucus or foreign bodies such as dust from the respiratory tract. There are different types of cough, for example, coughing with sputum. But dry irritable cough is also a variant. The phenomenon can also be acute or chronic – while acute coughs often disappear on their own after a while, chronic coughs are considered very persistent.
What is acute and what is a chronic cough?
The respective duration of the cough indicates whether it is an acute or chronic cough:
- Acute cough: This cough can last up to eight weeks and can often be traced back to an infection of the respiratory tract or other diseases such as an allergy.
- Chronic cough: If the symptoms last longer than eight weeks, it is a chronic cough. This can be caused by chronic diseases such as asthma or the so-called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
What forms of cough are there?
In medicine, a distinction is made between different forms of cough. These include:
- Cough with sputum: Also known as “productive cough”. This form of cough produces a lot of mucus, which is usually clear. Yellowish mucus indicates an inflammation of the respiratory tract, greenish mucus indicates a bacterial infection (“superinfection”). An acute productive cough is caused, for example, by pneumonia, while chronic productive cough indicates, for example, chronic bronchitis or COPD. By the way, there is also bloody sputum – the causes include a pulmonary embolism or particularly severe bronchitis.
- Irritable cough: Dry cough, which is called “unproductive”, is a cough without the formation of mucus, which is usually caused by irritation of the respiratory tract. Acute dry cough irritation indicates, for example, the beginning of a cold or bronchitis, but it is also possible that the person affected has inhaled foreign bodies. Chronic irritable cough, on the other hand, is a sign of chronic rhinitis or asthma.
What causes can coughing have?
Coughing can have many different causes, which differ not only in whether the symptoms are acute or chronic but also in whether adults or children are affected. Among others, the following causes can be considered:
- Acute bronchitis
- Whooping cough
- Pseudo croup
- Sinusitis (chronic)
- Allergic asthma
- Lung complaints, e.g. pulmonary embolism,
- Lung Cancer
- Heart failure
- Swallowing of foreign bodies, dust etc.
- Side effects of various drugs
Cough in children
Children’s airways are usually more sensitive than those of adults – they also suffer more often from persistent coughing after a viral infection. In addition, their body often produces excessive amounts of mucus in the nose and/or sinuses, which then runs down the throat and causes coughing.
Get rid of the cough: Which treatment helps?
Coughing is treated according to its cause. Chronic coughs should always be treated by a physician. An acute cough, which can be attributed to a rather harmless cold, for example, can also be treated with home remedies for coughs. Depending on the type of cough, however, various drugs can also be used:
- Cough blockers: dry irritable cough is treated with cough blockers. Most of these drugs act as a protective film over the irritated bronchial tubes and thus relieve the cough. Cough Blocker is used mainly in the evening when you cannot sleep because of an unproductive cough. Important: Cough blockers must not be used for slimy coughs – they prevent the mucus from the respiratory tract from being coughed up and thus make it easier for bacteria to settle on them. A combination of cough blocker and cough expectorant is also not recommended for this reason.
- Cough reliever: Often the mucus in the airways is tough and difficult to cough up. This is where cough removers help: they make the mucus more fluid and make it easier to cough it up.
Do I have to take antibiotics when I cough?
Many doctors still prescribe antibiotics, especially for persistent coughs caused by a cold. The problem is that antibiotics only work against bacteria, while most colds are caused by viruses. To identify the pathogen, a laboratory test is actually necessary.
If a bacterial infection is confirmed to be the cause of the cough, antibiotics should be taken – for as long as the doctor prescribes it, even if the patient is possibly already better before. If treatment is discontinued prematurely, some bacteria may survive – and develop resistance to the antibiotic.
Home remedies for coughs: what really helps
Especially in the case of a common cold, one does not always have to see a doctor directly because of coughs and colds. Gentle household remedies for coughs can also help. These include, for example:
- Drink a lot: Drinking a lot of water helps the body to liquefy the mucus, making it easier to cough it up. At least two liters a day should be enough for coughing.
Herbal tea: thyme, for example, is a good cough suppressant, chamomile soothes dry coughs and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Inhalation: Inhalations moisten the respiratory tract and make it easier to cough up. Camomile or peppermint tea, for example, is suitable for this.
- Essential oils: Eucalyptus, peppermint, or thyme oil also have an expectorant effect and combat germs. The oil can be rubbed on the breast, for example. Attention: Essential oils are not suitable for small children and babies!
When should I go to the doctor with a cough?
A regular person cannot always tell whether a cough is a sign of a more dangerous disease. If the symptoms last longer and do not improve, it is always advisable to have them checked by a doctor. If the following symptoms occur in addition to the cough, the doctor should definitely be consulted:
- Shortness of breath, plus possibly bluish lips
- Chest pain
- High fever
- Bloody sputum
- Complaints with very heavy smoking
- Previous cancer
- Known immune deficiency or HIV infection
Pain when coughing is extremely unpleasant but mostly harmless.
Pain in the ribs when coughing
Coughing is a real tour de force for our body, the muscles are working at full speed, resulting in pain when coughing. The pressure on the larynx and respiratory muscles, the tension of the back and abdominal muscles, and the strained diaphragm put a lot of strain on the body. Constant coughing can even lead to sore muscles. This overstrain makes itself felt in the form of rib pain and chest pain.
Pain when coughing: What is the cause of the cough?
In order to relieve the pain when coughing, you should first find out what illness is causing your cough. Because only the correct diagnosis can initiate a promising treatment of your symptoms.
The most common cause of coughing and therefore pain when coughing is a very common cold. It manifests itself either dry or in the form of moist cough attacks with viscous mucus.
Bronchitis also triggers unpleasant cough attacks. It is one of the most common diseases of the respiratory tract. The bronchial mucosa, the mucosa that lines the bronchi, is inflamed. At first, bronchitis manifests itself in a dry, irritable cough, but as the inflammation progresses the mucous membrane produces excessive secretions of viscous mucus which is coughed up.
Pneumonia can also be the trigger for pain when coughing. The inflammation is caused by bacteria such as pneumococci and usually occurs in winter. The tormenting cough in pneumonia is often accompanied by rusty brown, yellow-greenish, and viscous sputum.
If the mucous membranes of the larynx are inflamed, it is called laryngitis. Typical symptoms of laryngitis are hoarseness, a dry feeling in the throat, and coughing fits.
Lung cancer in its early stages usually causes no symptoms at all. Only when the tumor has grown sufficiently in the lung does the lung cancer manifest itself with symptoms such as irritation of the throat, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, and sputum.
Pain when coughing: Other causes
However, painful coughing does not always have to be accompanied by respiratory disease. Although respiratory diseases such as a cold, bronchitis, and pneumonia are among the most obvious causes, chest pain, and rib pain when coughing can also be caused by numerous other disorders. In this case, a physician should definitely be consulted for advice.
- Diseases of the spleen
- Diseases of the pancreas
- Heart attack
- Contusion of the ribs
- Broken ribs
Pain when coughing: What to do?
The causes of your cough and what exactly causes the pain should be clarified with a doctor. If an illness of the respiratory tract is responsible for your cough, the following tips and tricks promise relief.
- An old tried, and tested household remedy for a painful cough, such as bronchitis, is ivy extract. The natural active ingredients relax the muscles, thus relieving the diaphragm and helping to dissolve phlegm. Taken as drops, juice, or tea, the medicinal plant does you good.
- Inhaling hot steam with salt or essential oils is beneficial for colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, and laryngitis. The steam moistens the mucous membranes, supports the mucus solution, and coughing up is then less strenuous for your body. But be careful: If you experience shortness of breath, stop inhaling immediately.
- A warm bath can work wonders for rib pain. The well-tempered water relaxes the muscles and helps you to regain your strength.
- Vegetable cough suppressants such as Icelandic moss or ribwort have proven their worth. Taken as lozenges, they moisten the cough receptors of the throat, thus reducing the cough, relieving the bronchial tubes, and helping with bronchitis, laryngitis, and pneumonia. By the way, you can find other home remedies for coughs here.
- Of course, you can also take some medication in addition to these home remedies. Depending on the type of cough and in consultation with your doctor, you can take cough suppressants or expectorants.