Cough Mixtures

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Most people reach out for the bottle of cough syrup at the first instance of a cough. While cough syrups do work at providing the much needed relief, but many of them have adverse long term implications on health.


Why should I be aware of this?

Coughing is a reflex action that occurs when the respiratory passage is irritated. This can be due to irritants in the air that are picked up by the sensory nerve endings or can be food entering the wind pipe. Either ways the body seeks to expel out unwanted particles through coughing. However, the tendency is to reach out for cough syrups at the first hint of a cough.

There needs to be greater awareness about the effects of OTC cough mixtures. While they soothe the throat, they may also have deleterious effects if consumed immoderately --

  • Some, like Phensidryl, contain narcotic substances which has made them a big draw with those involved in substance abuse.
  • Some have a heavily sedative effect
  • Also parameters of diabetes or allergies to certain ingredients, as also ailments of the heart and blood pressure levels have also got to be kept in mind before buying a bottle of cough syrup, however good the product is made out to be by the advertisers, manufacturers or other users.
  • It is important to ascertain the type of cough before treating it.

At the end of the day, many people find that home remedies work best to alleviate coughs of most kinds.

All about cough mixtures

Cough mixtures come in two types, each used for the treatment of a different type of cough. Antitussive cough mixtures treat cough that is dry while an expectorants treat cough that is wet, that is, it includes phlegm and mucous.

Another categorization that is followed in cough goes by whether it is productive or unproductive. When there is mucous or phlegm which is infected and needs to be expelled, or if certain unwanted irritants need to be got out of the system , then coughing is a good way to get it out of the way. In that sense, coughing is productive. Productive cough is therefore good, especially in the case of wet cough.

Dry cough does nothing apart from increasing the irritability in the throat and respiratory passages. So it responds to the ‘unproductive’ categorization.

Medication as expected is not the same for both categories. So what are the differences in medication? More importantly what do the cough mixtures have included in them?

Antitussive cough mixtures

An antitussive is a cough mixture one ought to take if the cough is dry, produces itching, irritability and does not let one sleep properly. This is especially not good if one is suffering from other kinds of pain for a dry cough simply adds to the discomfort. What an anti tussive does is to suppress the tendency of the body to cough. It therefore suppresses the cough reflex by and does so by working on the brain centres that stimulate the cough reflex in the first place.

Howeever, Antitussives may sometimes be addictive because they contain codeine. So if one is concerned about addiction, a good and safe and non-addictive option could be dextromethorphan.

Expectorant cough mixtures

An expectorant assists in the coughing reflex and aids in the expelling of the mucous and other unwanted materials from the lungs and respiratory passages. The lungs normally produce a certain amount of mucus, which is carried out of the lungs by little hair-like cilia lining the air pipes. It is something that one does not even notice. However in cases of build up, the mucus levels increase and the expectorants are just the right thing to help discharge this mucous out of the body.

The lungs are sterile areas and the body clears itself by coughing. Once the irritants, unwanted phlegm or mucous build up is out of its way, the coughing reaction stops and one can breath easily again.

Ingredients in cough formulations

It is of great importance to know what the cough mixture bottle contains as a wrong formula can make things difficult in the long run. In addition cough formulations contain ingredients that often do not work with each other. So it is best to know what are the ingredients in the bottle that will be best suited to your cough.

  • Pain relieving elements -- All cough mixtures have certain ingredients that help relieve pain. This is a very important element regardless of the kind of cough one has since all coughs bring on some pain or the other. In a wet come, there may be lung or respiratory tract inflammation and therefore pain. So a pain reliever will be useful in mitigating it. In a dry cough, the throat may be itchy, and there might be some pain. Sometimes rib and stomach areas experience pain due to continuous and excessive coughing. The pain relieving element in the cough syrup will be immensely helpful in these areas.
  • Codeine, a derivative of morphine and a powerful narcotic painkiller is usually added to all cough formulations. This suppresses pain centres in the brain and provides the relief. However it is potentially very addictive and so it is not a very good thing to give to the children. Therefore it is best to avoid cough syrups countaining codeine.
  • Antihistamines are usually added to help fight allergic reactions. So in all likelihood it will be found in an antitussive. However, it may also be found in an expectorant when an allergic reaction may trigger off post nasal drip and give rise to phlegm. So to fight the allergic reaction and the nasal discharge, an expectorant may also contain antihistamine. The common antihistamines used are diphenhydramine and promethazine. Ipratropium bromide nasal spray also reduces watery nasal secretions that can cause postnasal drip and add to the phlegm and so the cough.
  • Broncodilators are ingredients that helps to widen out air passages in the lungs making it a very useful ingredient when the lungs are filled with mucous. The bronchodilator helps in the movement of the mucous more easily and helps in faster expulsion of the mucous. If included in an antitussive, it is just a useless add on and only intended with the aim of hiking up the price. So if you have a dry cough, do not buy a product with a bronchodilator.
  • Decongestants are helpful in case of an expectorant as it helps soften the phlegm which makes it easier to move out of the lungs and respiratory passages. A natural decongestant that doctors often prescribe is inhaling steam. The chemical counterpart is ephedrine which is also known to have a bronchodilatory effect.
  • Sugar is added to many cough mixes to make them taste better. Sometimes honey is also included since it is a known throat reliever and helps guard against colds and coughs. So a person with diabetes should be careful while using such mixes.
  • Alcohol is present in slight amounts in most cough mixes as it acts as a preservative and also a sedative. However, alcohol, as we know, is addictive, which is why one ought to check for it in the product one is buying, especially if the user is a child.

Homeopathic remedies

This is another way of treating coughs without resorting to the harmful mixes. Of course the medicine and the dose have to be checke with a qualified physician. Some of the basic medicines are listed here. Do note that homeopathy takes time. So it is not quite recommended in case the symptoms are very acute. For those who wish to undego self medication it is best to try out doses in a lower potency and see if it works for some days bore discarding it or using it further.

Some of the medications available under homeopathy are : phosphorous, rumex cripus, bryonia, spongia, belladonna, pulsatilla, antimonium tartaricum,kali-bichromicum, aconitum napellus, silica, sulphur.

Which one to use will depend on the symptoms and so will the dosage which only a homeopathic physician can correctly guide.

Cough mixtures and health

Cough mixes are not as innocent as they seem and although they are effective one ought not to run to a bottle at the first sighs of a cough. Alternately one should also not delay seeking expert advice if the cough mixture does not produce results in a short time. In any case, cough mixtures do provide a lot of ‘symptomatic relief’ and so are readily used.

However for the sake of health and safety, especially for children, there are other safer alternatives that one can use and one ought to explore these options as well. In any case a cough is a symptom, not a malaise by itself and should be treated in this way. Hence one needs to know what the cough is all about, the type of cough and the type of medication that one will need under the circumstances.

What can I do?

Here are some tips to keep in mind before choosing a cough syrup --

  • Check the product label before administering it
  • Do get an opinion from your doctor as to what your requirements are – antitussive or an expectorant
  • Do not delay in getting medical help if the cough persists,
  • Get immediate medical assistance if there is a discharge of blood or there is fever and the mucous is yellow or greenish and is thick in consistency
  • Do know your cough – is it a simple case of cold or brought by asthma, a reaction to some medication, due to acidity or a case of viral or bacterial infection.
  • Do not make taking OTC cough mixes a habit; also avoid taking such medication if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart related ailments or during pregnancy. In all such cases do check with your doctor.

For simple cases, especially in the case of dry cough, throat lozenges are ideal as they provide temporary relieve from irritation. They are called cough suppressants and usually contain linctus, glycerin and lemon and honey which provide a soothing effect to the back of the throat. Chemical cough suppressants include pholcodine, dextromethorphan and codeine. All these work at reducing the incidence of cough are mostly found in antitussive range of cough mixes.

Home remedies for cough

Most of the home remedies revolve around the use of honey, basil, lemon, pepper (white, black and red), almonds and garlic. Some of the very simple and easy to make home remedies are given below.

  • Lemon quarter sprinkled with black pepper powder and salt
  • Extracted juice of ginger and honey can be mixed and taken daily
  • Boil basil leaves, peppercorns and lemon juice with water till the mix becomes half, add honey to this and have it as often as you can.
  • Soak almonds overnight, grind to a paste and use it with butter and sugar in case of a dry cough.
  • Hot milk with honey works very well
  • Chewing a piece of cardamom or a clove is very helpful
  • Turmeric powder dissolved in hot milk or even hot water is very effective for coughs
  • Heat some coconut oil with powdered camphor and allow it to cool down to a lukewarm state. Once there, apply the oil to the chest, back, nose, throat and forehead. The cold usually subsides after continuous application twice a day for about 2 days.
  • Use a humidifier as it really helps in diluting the mucous.
  • Boil 5 garlic cloves in 2 cups of water; take the cloves out and drink up the warm water.
  • Have a hot chicken soup with lots of ginger and peppercorns especially if one has a wet cough for it is a natural decongestant.

There are many more such recipes that one can use. The ingredients are available in the confines of one’s kitchen and are known to be immensely helpful without any side effects.

See Also

References

  • Homeopathy Forums
  • Truestar Health
  • Homoeopathy Home
  • Essortment
  • Family Practice