(NEXSTAR) Since this time of year is full of viruses and even bacteria, there is a good chance that you or someone in your family has recently fallen victim to an illness. You might even be among the unlucky people who have a lingering cough.
Before you reach for a cough drop or cough drop, you should consider all your options.
As annoying and painful as a cough can be, sometimes there is a purpose. A cough is your body’s reaction to something that irritates your throat or airways, the Mayo Clinic explains.
The main viruses currently spreading, COVID, the flu, and RSV can all cause a cough. Other infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, can cause a chronic cough, as can many other diseases and conditions. The Cleveland Clinic explains several different types of cough: an acute cough that can start suddenly and last for a few weeks; subacute cough that lasts a few weeks to a few months after infection; chronic cough that lasts more than two months; and refractory cough or chronic cough that has not responded to treatment.
The type of cough you experience affects the right treatment for you. If your cough is caused by an infection, for example, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
But health experts say an over-the-counter drug may not always be worth it.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a spoonful of honey can work just as well as cough drops or medicine. Doctors have also warned that over-the-counter products often do not contain effective enough drugs.
It may also be best to let the cough run its course. Kaiser Permanente says you shouldn’t stop a productive cough that brings up phlegm or phlegm, as these are often helpful. Avoiding coughing altogether can lead to pneumonia and lung damage in some cases, explains Dr. Harold Farber, a pediatric pulmonologist at Texas Children’s Hospital.
This can also be true in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend giving over-the-counter cold or cough medicines to children under the age of 4. Pediatrician Dr. Pamela Phillips explained in a Cedars Sinai blog post that these drugs can cause sedation, irritability, and behavioral changes that usually outweigh any potential benefits.
So what can you do instead?
The Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and Harvard Health recommend simply staying hydrated, especially if you have a productive cough with phlegm and phlegm. If you have a sore throat when you cough, you can try drinking tea or hot water with honey or lemon juice; gargling warm salt water; sucking on a cough drop (which does not affect the cough, Kaiser Permanente warns) or candy; spending time in moist air (such as in a hot shower); and avoiding smoking or tobacco use. When you sleep, doctors recommend raising your head.
You can also continue to use cough medicine. If you decide to get an over-the-counter product, Kaiser Permanente recommends avoiding those that treat multiple symptoms. Instead, try to treat each symptom individually.
For a productive cough, you can try a cough medicine that thins the mucus. If you have a dry cough that’s keeping you up at night, Kaiser Permanente recommends a suppressant, but again cautions against over-inducing the cough. Coughing removes mucus from the lungs and helps prevent bacterial infections. Some of these products can help you sleep, which you might miss out on at the expense of your cough.
If you think the product works well, it probably won’t hurt you, even though you may be paying more for a placebo than for a proven drug, Harvard Health notes. Before buying an over-the-counter product, be sure to read the label.
If an over-the-counter product doesn’t help, experts recommend talking to your doctor. You should also seek medical attention if you have wheezing; you have a fever that has lasted more than a day or two, or is above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit; chills; or mucus that is yellow, green, or bloody, the Cleveland Clinic explains. If you feel like you are suffocating, can’t breathe well, notice a lot of blood when you cough up, or have severe chest pain, you should go to the emergency room.
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