One of the symptoms of COPD is a persistent wet cough. Some coughing is part of the condition and is necessary to help keep passageways clear but there may be other factors that are contributing to your cough.
Why do Coughs Happen?
When an irritant is present in the throat or airways it stimulates nerves which then send a signal to the brain. When it receives this signal the brain causes chest and abdomen muscles to contract to forcefully push air out of the lungs to expel the irritant. While coughing does serve a useful purpose, it’s essential that you have some cough relief so that you can get good rest. A chronic and robust cough can also hurt chest muscles and even crack ribs.
Acute Coughs- These are coughs that typically last less than three weeks and are generally due to common colds and other minor illnesses.
Sub Acute Coughs- These coughs last a bit longer, generally for three to eight weeks after the initial illness is over.
Chronic Coughs- A cough lasting more than eight weeks is classified as chronic. Coughs from COPD and asthma fall in to this category.
What is Necessary Coughing?
A non-productive cough is specifically a dry, hacking cough that doesn’t expel any mucus.
A productive cough brings up and expels mucus. This type of cough is necessary for those with COPD in order for patients to keep their airways clear. The best plan of action would be to practice mucus clearing techniques and when your cough becomes unproductive, then practice some of the following techniques to calm it.
Causes of Coughs
Coughs can be caused by several things and sometimes by a combination of factors.
- Acute Illness-Colds, flu, throat infections, viruses etc can all cause a lingering cough. These coughs should be gone within a few weeks or you should definitely seek the advice of a doctor.
- Chronic Illness-COPD, asthma, and other chronic conditions can bring about a cough. It’s important to distinguish here between productive and non-productive coughing.
- GERD- GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease can sometimes push stomach acid up into your throat causing an irritation and triggering a cough.
- Allergies- Dust, pollen, pet dander, even strong scents, or vapors can trigger a coughing fit. There are several techniques that you can employ to avoid common allergens.
It’s All in Your Head
It sounds strange but some coughs are caused by anxiety or the fact that they have just become habit after a while. If your cough becomes worse during stressful times or when you’re struggling to find the right words, chances are that it’s a nervous cough.
When you have the urge to cough try to hold it in for a few seconds. If the urge passes then there is a high probability that your cough has a psychological reason versus a physical one. If you suspect your nerves are making you cough, every time you have the urge to cough try to count out 3 seconds before you cough. Gradually count to 5, and then to 8, gradually increasing the time. Hopefully your cough urge will subside. In some extreme cases, people have resorted to cognitive behavioral therapy to stop their habitual coughing.
Calming Your Cough
No one has to tell a respiratory patient that there is nothing worse than a lingering cough. A cough can keep you up at night, disrupt the peace of your companion, and make it uncomfortable to be in social situations. Some coughing is necessary with COPD patients as that is the body’s natural way of clearing mucus however; there are some things that you can do to calm coughing and throat spasms. Your doctor will likely prescribe some prednisone if the cough is due to an illness or suggest some throat lozenges to soothe a chronically dry throat. Over-the-counter cough medications will be unlikely to help a cough but there are other things that you can do to quiet a pesky cough as well.
Avoid Smoke and Other Irritants
Smoke and other airborne irritants are unhealthy for your lungs and worsen your cough as well. If you are a hobbyist such as a wood or metal worker, be sure that you are wearing proper respiratory equipment when in your shop. If your cough is due to allergies, consider wearing a mask if you are outside on high pollen and high pollution days.
Drinking enough water is touted as a necessity to do everything from losing weight, to clearing up acne. It is important to keep your throat and airways moist. Proper hydration is essential for those with COPD or other respiratory ailments as the lungs are more than 80% water.
Drinking water thins out phlegm making it easier to expel. It also soothes dry, irritated throats. Drink at least 8 ounces of water every two hours and increase that amount if you also drink caffeinated beverages. Keep in mind that caffeinated beverages such as cola, black tea, and coffee make you more dehydrated. Stick to clear liquids such as;
- Herbal tea
- If you are active, sports drinks
Hot drinks and soups can be especially soothing. However, bear in mind that creamy soups or dairy can thicken mucus.
Moisture Can Help but Use Caution
Dry airways make it more difficult for mucus to drain and also irritate your throat causing you to cough. You might consider a room humidifier, especially at night if you live in a dry climate. However, be aware that if it’s humid where you live or you’re not careful about keeping it clean, a humidifier may foster the growth of mold, fungus, or dust mites, which thrive in damp environments, making your cough worse.
Breathing in steam with a few drops of eucalyptus can be extremely healing and soothing for cold and flu coughs. Even taking a nice hot shower or bath before bed can bring relief. For those with asthma, avoid steam. It’s likely to make your coughing worse.
Change your Sleeping Position
- Try to find a position that allows you to breathe more freely
- Lay on the side that is least congested to help mucus drain
- If your cough is caused by GERD lay on your left side to allow for gravity to keep stomach acid from rising into your esophagus
- Elevate your head to keep air passageways open, if your pillow is too high you can further block your throat so just elevate slightly and ensure that your pillow provides ample neck support
Improving Your Cough
As always you should speak to your doctor if you feel that your cough is getting more frequent or severe. They can perform tests to find out which of these factors might be the reason for the escalation in symptoms. They may prescribe medications to help with your cough or suggest some herbal or dietary supplements that my help.