How to stop your nagging cough from nagging you!
Does this sound familiar: You feel like you’re getting over a winter cold, but that dry cough just won’t let up?
The carina may be to blame – and no, that’s not an old high school chum.
“The carina is a tiny node of nerve fibres where the trachea splits into the two lung fields,” explains Bryce Wylde, associate medical director of Toronto’s P3 Health and host of TV’s Wylde on Health. “When the carina gets irritated, whether it’s from a viral infection, a bacterial infection or just because you’re coughing a lot, it signals the brain to cough.”
The problem is, an irritated carina will continue to trigger that nagging cough – even if there is nothing there. “So ultimately,” says Wylde, “the more you cough, the more you cough because of this little node.”
At that point, says Wylde, you need to work to suppress the cough to get through your day and, more importantly, to get a good night’s rest.
Here are some ways to do just that.
Cough syrups & lozenges
A tried-and-true remedy for many is a cough syrup that contains dextromethorphan. Keep in mind that if you’re only dealing with a cough, you don’t need a remedy that treats multiple symptoms like congestion and headache.
Lozenges are also a good go-to, as the extra saliva you produce when sucking on the pastille helps soothe a nagging cough. With both syrups and lozenges, look for honey – a proven cough soother – on the ingredient list. Zinc is another ingredient to look for: It helps the immune system and prevents bacterial adhesion.
If you want to try the natural route first for your nagging cough, Wylde suggests green tea with a squeeze of lemon juice. It helps you stay hydrated, which is key to good health.
The fact that green tea also packs powerful antioxidants, such as EGCG, is a bonus, says Wylde. The squeeze of lemon adds the antioxidant limonene, a hit of vitamin C, along with bioflavonoids, which help the body better absorb that C.
Not a green tea fan? Wylde suggests a vitamin C tablet in a glass of water.
Another cough-calming tip is to keep your home humidified.
“It’s really important to maintain the humidity level in your home, especially when the furnace is on,” says Wylde, “whether you’ve got a humidifier attached to your furnace or a portable one in your room.”
Best Health Tip: Add a few drops of an essential oil, such as eucalyptus, to a room humidifier for a more soothing steam.
And don’t forget about chicken soup – the ultimate cold comfort – for your nagging cough. Just make sure it’s real chicken soup with real chicken broth.
“Chicken soup’s virtue comes from the bone marrow,” says Wylde. “You can’t just sort of put some spices together and call it chicken soup. It’s got to be real chicken stock from a chicken with bones in boiling water.”
Another old-fashioned remedy, mustard plaster, can also work for a nagging cough. But, cautions Wylde, “You have to be careful because they have a chemical heat to them – they can create a chemical burn – so you want to have the right combination of mustard to flour and then cover it with a cheesecloth.”
Boost your immune system
Of course, when it comes to that nagging cough, the best remedy is prevention.
“Keeping a robust immune system is key,” says Wylde. “Having an excellent sleep of seven to eight hours and eating a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables are hugely important.”
He also adds vitamin D to that list – especially for us Canadians.
“Vitamin D is absolutely key for immune function,” says Wylde, adding that it is essential in helping to prevent colds and flu. “Where we live, north of 40 degrees latitude, we don’t get enough exposure to the sun.” So, it’s smart to check your vitamin D levels with your doctor.
Nothing worked? Talk to your doctor
If your cough changes – your hacking increases rather than decreases or you’re concerned about increasing amounts of phlegm – it’s time to see your doctor.
- Thick, yellow mucus, for instance, could mean that you have a bacterial infection.
- Green may indicate something viral
- And clear could mean allergies or bronchitis.
“If your cough and phlegm persist or get worse – even after one week,” says Wylde, “you absolutely have to seek medical attention.”