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Tips and tricks for that persistent cough

Woman coughing with text: hacks for your hacking cough

Looking for relief from a persistent, dry, hacking cough? We offer help and a breathing tip that can ease a cough. Coughs from flu, bronchiolitis, strep, RSV, COVID-19 and pneumonia are common right now. Keep reading for help.

Although flu season will be behind us soon, a dry, hacking cough is going – and sticking – around. Combined with coughs from flu, bronchiolitis, strep, RSV, COVID-19 and pneumonia, the call for relief is loud. So much that Americans are expected consume more than $11 million in over-the-counter cold and cough remedies this year, and that doesn’t include sales to hospitals or government agencies. That’s a lot of nose spray, syrup, lozenges and ointments! Besides medications, what can be done?

Tips to ease a cough:

Most of the coughs we’re seeing are a nagging, dry ‘tickle’ that just won’t go away. It’s typically triggered by a change in temperature, laughing or talking – all unavoidable actions of life.  If you’ve had  an illness recently, and the cough lingers but doesn’t get worse, managing your symptoms is sometimes the best you can do. These tips could help you ease your discomfort:

  • A warm, steamy shower or humidifier can help you breathe easier.
  • If a shower isn’t practical, breathe slowly through your nose while keeping your mouth closed. Doing this has a similar effect: It warms and moistens the air before it hits your airway and activates the cough reflex.
  • Lozenges can help. This is partly because of the soothing provided by the lozenge, but also because it prompts you to keep your mouth closed and the air hitting your throat becomes warm and moist.
  • Steaming warm tea and honey can help keep a cough at bay by soothing your throat and nasal passages.
  • Try nasal lavage, saline rinse or saline spray to moisten your sinuses and flush out pathogens and allergens that may be worsening your cough.
  • There are many over-the-counter medications for cough and cold symptoms that may help.
Boy coughing with text: A trick to trick that cough

When a cough is coming on:

A cough is not technically considered to be “chronic” until it has lasted for eight weeks or more – that’s a long time for such an irritating symptom. Living with someone who has an ongoing cough can be frustrating, too. But because many coughs are a reflex related to irritation from post-nasal drip, they can’t easily be held back. However, there is some evidence that ‘retraining’ might help.

If you find yourself coughing, taking a big breath and then coughing again, you may be triggering that coughing fit. That’s because the cool, dry air that comes in with that big breath irritates your sensitized cough reflex. So, if you can take air in through your nose, with just a slight delay, that might help. This is a trick that only works in some cases, but it won’t hurt to try!

#1: At the first sign of a cough, cover your mouth.

#2: Swallow once.

#3: Hold your breath for a few seconds.

#4: Take slow, smooth breaths through your nose only. Do this for 30 seconds.

#5: Then take one normal breath through your nose.

#6: If the coughing has calmed, return to regular breathing. If it hasn’t, repeat this series. (Stop if you feel dizzy!)

When to head to urgent care:

Because of the longevity of this coughing, we are also seeing patients who want to be sure there’s nothing else going on, like a secondary bacterial infection, pneumonia, reflux, heart or lung issue. This is always a smart move. You can help rule out concerns with a visit to our urgent care clinic. It’s particularly wise to head this way if you experience any of the following:

  • It gets worse.
  • The type of cough changes (it sounds “wet” or feels different).
  • New symptoms or old symptoms return.
  • Mucus or phlegm is thick or anything besides clear.
  • If you experience wheezing.
  • You run a fever.

Could it be bronchitis?

We’re often asked about bronchitis and chronic coughs and there’s definitely a chance your coughing might be this  illness. If you feel tired, congested, have a sore throat, have a headache or are coughing up mucus, bronchitis may be the culprit. And yes, these symptoms are very much like those of other viral diseases. The only reliable way to know for sure is to test. That’s where our on-site molecular PCR testing is useful. We can test for flus, COVID and RSV with one swab and know what course of treatment will be best for your cough.

No matter what the reason for your cough, we’re here to help you find relief. No appointment is needed – just walk in!

Reviewed by: Frank Garber, APRN, FNP-C

If you are in a situation that might be life-threatening, go straight to the emergency room or call 911. Situations like this include: Shortness of breath or breathing problems. Seizures or ‘blackouts’. Sudden vision problems. Confusion or dizziness. Heavy bleeding. Possible breaks that appear to be deformed or blue, or that include bleeding. Serious burns. The inability to speak or move. Head and neck injuries.