A coughing spell can be exhausting, or worse, it can put you through some embarrassing situations like battling with a persistent cough in a public place. Coughing is a reflex which helps the breathing passages get rid of secretions, irritants and other foreign particles. It is also a common symptom but not a disease itself.
Whether it is caused by a bacteria, allergies, acid reflux or cold, cough can be such an inconvenience, so many just prefer to find a quick-fix for bad cough. If you are preoccupied and cannot help but forgo a doctor’s check up to get a prescription, there is a variety of over-the-counter medications available. But first, you must know what kind of cough you have to determine the right kind of cough medication that will address your problem.
A cough can be non-productive or productive. A non-productive or dry cough is dry and irritating but does not produce any phlegm. It is usually caused by an irritation in the throat or a swelling in the airways caused by certain conditions such as asthma or bronchitis. Dry cough can also result from inhaling irritants such as cigarette smoke or dust. On the other hand, a productive cough or wet cough, is a type of cough with a presence of mucus or phlegm. Productive cough stems from viral or bacterial infection such as common cold.
Now here are the common types of cough medicines available in the market:
Antitussives or suppressants are used to treat dry cough. Cough suppressants help the body fight the urge to cough. However, it can cause breathing problems in some people with lung condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Mucolytics, such as bromhexine and acetylcysteine, help break down dry, thick and sticky phlegm. They may help treat cough symptoms related to chronic or long-term bronchitis or COPD.
Expectorants work by increasing bronchial secretions in the respiratory tract. They help loosen congested cough, making it more productive. In that way, phlegm is easier to expel through coughing. Expectorants are usually the drug of choice for productive cough. Example of these are ambroxol, carbocysteine and guaifenesin.
There are cough medicines that contain both expectorant and mucolytic properties because they work in similar rationale—to induce cough in order to expel the phlegm. However, it is not advisable to combine an expectorant/mucolytic and a cough suppressant because the former works to make phlegm looser but the latter will just antagonize the body’s coughing reflex which will make it harder to clear the respiratory passageways of mucus secretions. This is why it is necessary to determine the type of cough you have before getting a medication. In addition to your cough medication, it is advisable to drink plenty of fluids and take plenty of rest. Also avoid taking sedating antihistamines such as chlorphenamine, clemastine and hydroxyzine, as these drugs have a tendency to dry up secretions and leave them in the lungs.
If your cough lasts for more than a week and if it is accompanied with fever and difficulty in breathing, contact your doctor.