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Expert Tips on How to Get Rid of an Annoying Cough This Winter!


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A cough may be unavoidable this winter given the prevalence of flu cases as well as the persistence of Covid-19 infection.

Professor Camilla Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said last week that doctors have noticed that coughs last longer than usual this winter. It is speculated that this may be due to the fact that people are contracting one infection after another – perhaps due to our reduced resistance to infection after two winters of social isolation.

As Norwich Medical School infectious disease expert Professor Paul Hunter said last week, the more time has passed since a previous infection, the more likely we are to become infected again.

So what can you do about this cough?

When you have a respiratory infection, the body increases mucus production to catch the viruses responsible.

Coughing is the reflex act of clearing this mucus from the airways, explains Dr. Edward Nash, consultant in respiratory medicine at The Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham.

Dr Anindu Banerjee, Respiratory Consultant at Southampton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, explains that the mucus that can accompany a cough is due to inflammation, which is part of the body’s immune response, and infection of the small tubes in the lungs. The tubes become so flexible and narrow that when you blow hard—cough—the speed of the air flowing through them causes the sound to change. There is no point in trying to suppress a cough, because the body knows that it needs to get rid of some source of irritation.

But why can a cough continue after the cold or infection that caused it has passed?

“Coughing for more than three weeks, even after the virus is gone, means you may have an ongoing inflammatory response,” says Dr. Banerjee.

That’s why recovery – in other words, calming down before returning to normal activities and exercise – after a bad cough is important, because it’s a sign that the body is still healing.

Thus, drawing energy from somewhere else – for example, by resuming a strenuous exercise regimen – you can slow down your recovery.

What’s more, even minor inflammation in the body leads to fatigue because it changes the way cells use energy.

“Constant inflammation in the muscles and airways can also cause lethargy — fighting viruses can make us tired,” says Dr. Banerjee.

And if it doesn’t make sense to resist the urge to cough, there are ways to deal with it.

Ashley Woodcock, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester, says that menthol cough drops or throat sprays help because they provide a cooling sensation in the throat, which can help counteract “the ticklish sensation that makes you want to cough.” Sensitivity of the nerves in the throat, which can lead to a cough reaction. Menthol soothes the throat, so the chance of coughing is reduced. However, the cough control effect can last from 20 minutes to half an hour.

Cough syrup helps because swallowing the liquid soothes the throat, which is why Dr. Banerjee suggests mixing over-the-counter cough medicines with water.

“That’s how these products were originally intended to be taken,” he says. Whichever product you use, mix the recommended dose with the same amount of warm water and drink slowly. It’s more soothing – and means you drink it longer. so the effect will last longer.”

But he says any liquid can soothe and coat the throat—hot drinks and soups also help relieve coughs, and liquids help thin mucus, making it easier to pass. Keep your home warm – between 18 and 21°C, suggests GP Dr. Andrew Whittamore, clinical director of Asthma + Lung Hospital UK.

And some studies, such as one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have shown that the immune response – specifically in rodents – is reduced at lower temperatures.

Another tool could be breathing exercises, an idea first proposed in the 1950s when Russian scientist Dr. Konstantin Buteyko noticed that people who breathed through their mouths and constantly cleared their throats experienced spasms of dry, irritating coughs.

Emma Tucker, Respiratory Physiotherapist and Post-COVID Rehabilitation Coordinator at the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, says: “Breathing through your nose helps to warm, humidify and filter incoming air.
When our noses are stuffed up, we don’t, which can lead to throat irritation and increased coughing.”

She suggests trying the following exercise, which she recommends to patients at her clinic—and which she does herself when she has a persistent cough—to get rid of the mucus that causes it: Lie on your back on a soft surface, put your hands on your stomach, and focus on breathing through nose and moving the air down to your stomach, feel it gently rise and fall with your breath. Try to focus on the volume of your breath – we recommend that a normal, comfortable breath be between 450 and 500 ml (a little more than a can of Coke).

This standard advice to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day is not only due to the fact that the liquid soothes the throat and reduces the urge to cough, but also thins the mucus with the same effect.

A potential complication of frequent coughing is its effect on the chest muscles.

According to Dr. Nash, a strong contraction of the muscles between the ribs can damage the muscle fibers and cause pain. That’s why he suggests “paracetamol or ibuprofen for a few days.”

And if you have more persistent pain—for three to four weeks—it’s important to get it checked out, as it could be a sign of pneumonia, a lung tissue infection, and an infection in the airways.

And if you’re sick and less active than usual, Dr. Banerjee reiterates, it’s important to take it easy over the next few days or weeks if needed. “It is important,” he says, “when returning to normal daily life, do it slowly – in particular through exercise, and not start from the previous levels.

“Forcing yourself before you’re ready can set you back and make you more tired. That’s why it’s so important to listen to your body and how it responds,” says Dr. Gavin Francis, general practitioner and author of Restoration: A Lost Art. Recovery through exercise.

Please consult your health care professional before making any recommendations.

Source: Daily Mail

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