You must know that tickly persistent cough – it comes when you get that tingling, irritating sensation in your throat. You have no choice but to cough but coughing makes no difference, the irritation stays there. It is so frustrating. Sometimes the cough fit comes all of a sudden and sometimes you can feel the irritation coming and can only think oh-no-here-we-go-again. Are you nodding? Want to get rid of your cough?
I’ve been there, but have learned a couple of tricks that ease the symptoms. And in many cases cure the persistent cough.
My Whole30 round 2 (see round 1 results) hasn’t gone at all like I planned. I’ve had a nasty flu for over a week already and I haven’t been able to do any exercise. That was one of the main goals I had when I started over. This cold however cannot compare to the one I had last time:
My coughing fits started a year ago when I had a horrible flu – worst I’ve ever had. Think bronchitis but ten times worse. I was actually certain that it was pertussis (whooping cough) but a lab test proved me wrong. I was coughing so much my muscles in my chest, ribs and back were aching, I would often throw up at the end of a coughing fit and I lost my voice completely for a full month! My voice has now at last, a year later, almost fully recovered.
Doctors are sometimes little help when it comes to chronic cough. They tell you that there are many reasons for coughs – it could be an allergy or something else that is causing irritation to pharynx or larynx. It could also be asthma, postnasal drip, GERD, cold, flu or just dry air. I think quite often a vicious circle is formed when pretty much everything irritates a larynx that is already red, swollen and inflamed after having a cold, and with constant irritation and more coughing the larynx won’t have time to heal even though the cold or flu you had in the first place is just a distant memory.
There are however ways to cure the persistent cough yourself but you might have to attack it from several directions at the same time because what works for one person might not work for the other.
In this post I will tell you about these methods.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Get a doctor’s opinion first
Ok, this one is obvious but it has to be the first advise. That’s because if you’ve had your cough for over two weeks, you really have to check it with your doctor. He or she can then forward you to an ENT specialist (Ear, nose and throat specialist) who has enough equipment and skills to have a look at your throat and give advise. This is important to do so that you know there are no obvious medical issues that should be treated.
You can also try to figure out your diagnosis by using Healthline’s SymptomChecker. Be careful with self-diagnosis though. Just use it to get ideas that you can speak with your doctor.
I understand that all you want to know is how to stop coughing. If all your doctor can do is to tell you that “a cough gets better by coughing” – which is pretty much what I was told – you can try the following options:
2. Moisturize throat with a vapour inhaler
Purchase a vapour inhaler (affiliate link*) online or from your nearest pharmacy. There are different types on inhalers, but they will all do the trick. The main thing you need to do is to moisten the larynx and that’s what the inhaler does. When your throat is dry, it gets irritated. Some inhalers allow you to use slightly salted water, which is better than just plain water. Read the instructions carefully. Use the inhaler twice a day and give it time, don’t expect to get results overnight.
3. Good old nasal rinsing method might help with symptoms
I know this might sound and feel a bit weird at first and you might be apprehensive, but go ahead and give it a try! I really like this method. You can buy a nasal rinsing device (I use a netipot) (affiliate link*) online or from a pharmacist or a health store.
You need to use warm and slightly salted distilled or filtered water in nasal rinsing. The first couple of times you rinse might feel awkward. Just remember that as soon as you learn the technique properly, it will all be very easy. You should do nasal rinsing once or twice a day. You should definitely try this if you have any sinus problems!
Here’s a nice video by AshleysGreenLife on how to use netipot.
4. Steam and humidify
The idea behind this is similar to the last two advises – you need to find ways to sooth and moisturize your larynx and pharynx.
If you have a humidifier, use it in your bedroom at night.
Take a steamy shower. Run the shower afterwards with very high temperature to create more steam. Sit in a chair in your bathroom and inhale this steamy air for a while.
5. Drinking water is important when you have a dry cough
Drink plenty of water to keep your throat moist and thin out the mucus. Sometimes when I get that tickling sensation and feel a cough coming, I can prevent it by grabbing a bottle of water and drinking it slowly. Keep drinking water throughout the day.
Gargle warm salt water
You can gargle warm salt water, this again moisturizes your throat. Here’s how:
Take a cup (=2,5 dl) of water.
Add 0,5 tsp salt and mix.
You can do this as many times a day as you wish.
Drink something warm
Drinking something warm will sooth your throat and help loosen mucus. Have some tea with honey or lemon. You can also add Echinacea or ginger to your tea.
If you drink alcohol you can also make a good old hot toddy before going to bed. Just add a little bit of whiskey or bourbon to your herbal tea.
6. Rub Vicks VapoRub to your feet
I heard about this method and was really hoping to get results from this. It didn’t work for me as well as I hoped but that doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you. So, if you have dry cough at night you should try this:
Rub VapoRub (affiliate link*) on the soles of your feet before bedtime and put a pair of thick socks on.
Many people with cough have said that they get a good night sleep with this tip. Give it a try – it might work for you!
7. Have you considered avoiding dairy or grains to avoid excess mucus?
Sometimes a persistent cough is caused by excess mucus at the back of your throat. This is called postnasal drip and it happens when your body produces more mucus or the mucus is thicker than usual. There could be several reasons for this (for example allergies, cold or sinus infection) but it could also be caused by the food that you eat.
Try avoiding dairy. Milk and other dairy products may cause the mucus to become thicker so if you notice that for example milk chocolate makes your cough worse, give this a try. On the other hand there’s another study that suggests that cacao in dark chocolate might actually relieve a chronic cough.
I’ve heard that grains could cause coughing as well. There could be other reasons for excess mucus, but eliminating a food group for a while is an option you could try.
8. Try cough suppressants, saline sprays and allergy medicine
You have probably tried some cough medicine and other cough remedies by now already. Most cough suppressants won’t work, but cough syrups that contain codeine have helped me a lot. These work particularly well at night allowing you to sleep well without waking up coughing. Codeine might make you a bit sleepy so I wouldn’t have it in the morning. You can’t use this type of medicine for a long period of time, but together with these other methods, this could help in the process of soothing your irritated airways.
Saline sprays on the other hand might help you by increasing the moisture in your nasal passages. You should use nasal sprays for only a couple of days though. The thing with coughing is that it is often really difficult to pinpoint where the problem is. You feel the irritation in your throat, but it is difficult to know where the real problem lies. Saline sprays might therefore help as well.
If your cough is related to an allergy, an allergy medicine and/or antihistamines might help. If you have asthma, a round of oral steroids such as Prednisone might cure your persistent cough.
9. Sometimes persistent cough is caused by allergies
If you have just recently bought a family pet you didn’t have before you’ve probably already done the math and consider that your new family member is perhaps causing your cough. However, there are allergies that you might not even think about:
The flowers your friend brought the other day or the weeping fig you just bought to the bedroom corner could be the reason you keep coughing. Scented products such as scented candles or bathroom sprays can irritate your airways as well.
The dust mites and germs living in your bed linen can also be the cause. It is a good idea to wash and change your pillowcases and sheets every week. If you think the dust mites are the problem you could also consider buying dust mite-proof mattress and pillow covers (affiliate link*).
10. Elevate your head while in bed for easier breathing
Have you noticed that you start coughing almost as soon as your head touches the pillow? The reason could certainly be the above mentioned dust mites, but there could be another reason:
You might not know this, but while you’re awake you swallow about a quart/litre of mucus a day. You don’t even notice this because it’s just dripping at the back of your throat. Now, when you go to sleep or just lie down, this mucus can build up and lead to a tickle in your throat.
Here’s what you can do:
Make sure you have enough pillows to have your head elevated. You can also place books, bricks or wood blocks under the head of your bed to elevate it. If you do this you should sleep on your back to prevent problems with your neck. You can also buy a new bed that allows you to mechanically elevate your upper body, but those beds are quite expensive. You can also try wedge pillows (affiliate link*) – they do the same thing, just a lot cheaper.
A dry chronic cough, especially if it’s a wheezing cough, can also be a symptom of asthma, speak with your doctor about this.
11. Have cough drops for emergencies
Cough drops (often containing menthol or herbs) might help but the result is often just a short term relief. These are however really handy to have with you in your handbag (together with another cough panic relief: a small bottle of water) in case a coughing fit hits you on while you’re on the move.
I really hope you’ll find these tips helpful, trust me I know what a pain a constant cough is. If nothing helps and your cough persists, then pay your doctor another visit. Please share with us if you have other ideas on how to tackle a persistent cough!
*This blog entry contains affiliate links to Amazon. So if you click on the link and then buy something on Amazon, I will get a small percentage of what you pay. The price of products are naturally the same to you, I’ll just get this small fee.