What’s in a Cough?

Naturally Savvy
Naturally Savvy

A few weeks ago the temperature in Colorado was absolutely gorgeous: 60°F, sunny, couldn’t get enough of the outdoors. Then, without any warning, the temperature plunged into the single digits and it snowed. Within a few days of that weather change, my daughter started coughing. A couple of days later she came down with a cold.

With all of the snow came high winds-lots of stuff flying around. My son came home from school with a cough. Turns out his allergies were aggravated from the winds.

My husband was watching the football game last Sunday and fell asleep on the sofa. From the kitchen I heard him cough. I elevated his head and shoulders with a pillow and the coughing stopped.

What I have described above are four very different types of coughs: obstructive cough, cold cough, allergic cough, post-nasal drip cough-all treated differently.

Our bodies are pretty amazing. If you pay attention to the sensations and sounds that your body makes, you will be surprised at what you will discover. By now you can guess that a cough is never normal-it is a signal that something is not right. It could be something fairly benign like a dry throat or something much more serious as in one of the warning signs of cancer.

Below is a list of the most common types of coughs. Armed with this knowledge, you will be better prepared to deal with and treat a cough appropriately.

1. Dry throat cough

This type of cough is usually characterized by a dry, irritated, or tickling sensation in the back of the throat. It can be caused by a lot of things, the most common of which is dehydration. Try to increase your water intake and that should cure the problem. Another potential trigger of dry cough is side effects of medication. When a doctor prescribes a new medication, make sure you ask about potential side effects as well as potential drug interactions. Lastly, a dry cough can be caused by irritant such as: pet dander, dust, and others.

2. Throat-clearing cough

This cough is usually a result of post-nasal drip, which occurs from a variety of issues like the common cold, allergies, or clogged sinuses; the drainage has to go somewhere and usually drips down the back of the throat. Don’t treat this one on your own until you see a doctor as you may have a sinus infection that will need to be treated with a course of antibiotics.

3. Wheezing or shortness of breath cough

The culprit for this cough is usually cold air or exercise. Joggers commonly complain of this type of cough because the activity is often done early in the morning when the air is still cold. Cold air that is breathed through the nose is warmed before it gets to the lungs. But when we breathe in through our mouths (as is done by joggers), the cold air triggers this type of respiratory response. Lastly, other triggers of this type of cough are asthma, smoke inhalation, or other irritants. If there is a disease attacking your lung tissue, early medical intervention is the key to complete recovery.

4. Cough associated with laughter

The most common trigger for the laughing cough is asthma.

5. Loud cough associated with eating

This one is choking. The best way to prevent choking is to not talk and eat; drink and eat; or laugh and eat at the same time. The body gets confused when we attempt to do conflicting functions such as talking, which requires movement of air, and eating, which involves shutting off the pathway to the lungs so we don’t aspirate our food. Lastly, acid reflux could trigger the cough reflex located in the lower part of the esophagus. If the problem is acid reflux, then eat slower, eat smaller portions of food, and do not recline or lay down after eating.

6. Unspecified cough

A cough that is not associated with any of the triggers mentioned above and lasts for more than a week should be assessed by a doctor for something more serious such as cancer or whooping cough. Whooping cough is on the rise because people are not getting their 12-year booster immunization.

So there you have it. The next time you experience a cough, remember it is your body’s way of telling you that something is not right.

Please don’t reach for a bottle of cough medicine-especially since there are so many different varieties to choose from and you could make your cough worse. You must determine the cause before you can cure the cough.

A little knowledge and prevention go a long way to being naturally savvy!

Dr. Mundorff

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Linda Mundorff, MPH, MSN, ND, RN, CNC, CTN has worked in health care for over 25 years as a registered nurse, health educator, associate professor, and a naturopathic doctor. She holds several degrees in health education, public health, nursing, and naturopathy. She is a certified nutritional consultant and a board certified traditional naturopath. Dr. Mundorff is the author of several books, including Memories Of My Sister: Dealing with Sudden Death, Medical Terminology: A Student Workbook. Her latest, Take Control: A Guide to Holistic Living, is an innovative health guide, which helps the reader learn how to regain control of their health by discovering the practical effectiveness of combining alternative and modern medicine.