No matter if the cough is productive or nonproductive: Coughing is always annoying and unpleasant!
First there is a dry, irritating cough, and then the cough gets productive with the secretion of mucus - but it is always annoying and unpleasant. Cough is a typical symptom of a common cold, and can be especially disturbing during the night. Coughing should not be suffered in silence - it should be properly treated!
There are two types of airway infections:
- Upper respiratory tract infections, e.g. rhinitis or sinusitis
- Lower respiratory tract infections, e.g. bronchitis
In these cases coughing often is a symptom of acute infection of the upper and/or lower airways, for instance, accompanying a common cold. These infections are caused by viruses and usually last just a few days, possibly up to two weeks. Such viral infections are more common during cold weather but may also appear during summer.
Grafic: Stages of cough & Active Components of Bronchostop
Generally speaking coughs can be divided into 2 big categories: dry coughs and productive coughs. It is not always easy to distinguish a dry cough from a productive cough and it even becomes more difficult during the overlapping periods.
Dry coughs are tickling and irritating coughs due to an irritation of the throat caused by foreign particles, dust or a throat infection. This is the kind of cough where no mucus or phlegm is produced. Dry coughs are usually treated by antitussives.
Productive (Chesty) coughs are characterized by the formation of mucus or phlegm in the lungs. The cough reflex is meant to cough up all phlegm in order to clear the lungs. Chesty coughs are usually treated with expectorants.
Early treatment is important because otherwise the infection could progress and may result in bronchitis or some other subsequent affection. Bacteria often take advantage of this chance to overrun the immune system compromised by the common cold. This results in additional bacterial infection (the so called secondary bacterial infection). One sign which may help to differentiate between bacterial and viral infections is the color of the secreted mucus:
In viral infections the sputum often is mucus-like and whitish. The "common cold" is usually caused by an acute viral infection. Typical symptoms of a common cold are cough,„the snuffles“, sore throat, sometimes muscle pain, headache and elevated temperature or fever.
In bacterial infections the sputum tends to be tinged yellowish-green.
If the symptoms persist for more than 1 week in the latter case, you should see a doctor without delay, since treatment with antibiotics might be necessary.
In cough herbal preparations such as extracts made from thyme or marshmallow have long tradition for symptomatic treatment of cough. Thyme has a secretolytic and spasmolytic effect. Furthermore it increases the activity of the cilia in the bronchi, thereby facilitating expectoration. The root of the marshmallow soothes the irritated throat and thereby helps to relieve the urge to cough.