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That nagging cough

By Sateesh Maharaj

One of the most miserable symptoms when one has a cold or flu is the cough. It keeps you up at night; it prevents you from breathing properly and may often leave one's sides and head in pain.

As usual there is another bad virus making the rounds and making life uncomfortable for many. Dr Asante LeBlanc, general practitioner, says what is unusual about this 'bug' is the fact that it has left many with a cough long after the cold seems to have gone.

"This virus in particular is leaving you with that," she said. "I suspect that once we think the virus is gone it is not; that is the time it is trying to propagate. The contagious period is longer."

Dr Assante explained that a cough is a reflex action that takes place once the mucosa (moist tissue that lines certain parts of the inside of your body) of the throat is irritated.

"Some of the viruses, because they go into the mucosa, that is their mechanism of spreading — via respiratory droplets in the cough. They actually cause the reaction — the soreness and irritation — so you have to cough and so spread the virus. Our body produces mucus to trap the virus and germs and then the cilia in our respiratory tract tries to get it out. When it propels it to get it out it results in a cough reflex."

She advised individuals to keep the area moist with lots of liquids including honey which will coat the throat and help to reduce the irritation, and therefore, the cough.

"Brandy or cognac mixed with honey and lime, an old-time remedy, is also very good. The cognac inhibits the cough reflex."

She said that there are many cough syrups on the market, which are designed to sooth specific cough types. But one should be aware that coughing is the body's way of trying to expell a germ.

"Cough syrups are nice especially if the cough is incessant to the point where you are going to vomit or can't breathe. But when one inhibits a cough too much one actually keeps the germs in and it can become a bacterial infection. The cold lasts longer."

Dr Assante offered some methods of controlling a cough.

"Gargling is good for soothing the throat. You don't have to have Vicks but just inhale steam to moisten the airways. There are natural remedies like lemon grass or fever grass, honey and thyme, slippery elm, marshmallow, horehound and osha root for the sore throat. I do a cough syrup with a lot of those herbs in it and it helps a lot."

She added: "Sometimes you find that you cough so much your cough is ineffective and your chest tightens; you get congested and you start to wheeze. People say maybe you're asthmatic but you're not. You're just not getting enough time to breathe and recuperate so it is a vicious cycle. A cough is protective as well as irritating."

She continued: "Some physicians are coming to the conclusion that maybe you should not suppress a cough as much especially in the early stages. If it is very debilitating, you are constantly hacking and it almost sounds like you have a whooping cough then you need a suppressing to be able to breathe."

One other reason for coughs, according to Dr Assante, is the fact that we are in the spring/summer season. She said: "Even though we don't have those seasons per se, there are the allergens in the air."

The doctor noted that if a cough is lasting for longer than a week, then one should consult a physician.

"Let the physician listen to your chest, examine your entire respiratory and cardio vascular system properly. If you have any comorbid (coexisting with an unrelated pathological or disease process) conditions, the cold could cause more problems depending on how stable you are and how healthy you were before you got the cold. The physician may or may not send you for an x-ray depending on how long you have had the cough and what he or she are hearing upon the examination. If you have a fever for longer than three days then you need to see a physician earlier."

She said that a serious cough can lead to several complications including shortness of breath and bleeding. "The force may be so much that it could burst some capillaries in the respiratory tract and blood will come out. A worst case scenario is if you are an alcoholic you could burst a vein in your oesophagus because you tend to get varicose veins if you have been drinking too much for too long. Those rupture and you can get bleeding. Another worse case scenario is that you can get a hernia, or diaphragmatic tears or ruptures. If you are eating and you cough the food could go down the respiratory tract and you choke. You have to have a balance in how much you are coughing."

Dr Assante recommended that people who have a cold or flu cover their necks properly.

"It is an old time tradition but it really works when you keep your neck warm. It soothes the throat. Sometimes a simple cough is an alert to a physician that something is wrong. It may be more than just a cold or a flu."

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