Understanding cough and how to fight it


A person’s coughing could be due to varied reasons. “A cough is a reflex that starts when the respiratory system sensory nerves are stimulated,” explains a pulmonologist. 

“Contrary to what most people think, cough is not a disease but rather the defense mechanism of the lungs and airways from irritants like cold air, cigarette smoke, or strong perfumes,” emphasizes Dr. Gwen Agra.

She explains further, “An impulse is sent to the brain which then sends a message to the muscles in the respiratory system to contract to produce a cough.”

Dr. Gwen Agra (inset) explains the various triggers for cough, which include irritants, allergies and asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, viruses, and others.
Dr. Gwen Agra (inset) explains the various triggers for cough, which include irritants, allergies and asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, viruses, and others.

There are three parts to cough, according to Dr. Agra: First, a person takes a breath in; next, pressure increases in the throat and lungs when the vocal cords close; and then there’s the explosive release of air as vocal cords open, creating that characteristic cough sound.

This body’s defense mechanism, the doctor reiterates, “is supposed to protect you by getting stuff that doesn’t belong in your lungs and windpipe.” She, however, recommends to see a doctor if a cough persists for three weeks with no sign of improvement.

In addition to irritants, other triggers for cough include allergies and asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acid reflux, and postnasal drip, with the most common being viruses that cause respiratory tract infections (RTI). 

“Colds and the flu are the most common causes. Wet or productive coughs get the ‘germy’ mucus out of your lungs when you’re sick. Most will go away in a few days. After a cold, though, dry cough lasts weeks or months,” says Dr. Agra.

Considering all triggers, Dr. Agra warns that “a cough that is a symptom of a more serious condition is unlikely to go away on its own. If left untreated, the condition could worsen and cause other symptoms.”

The respiratory system expert shares she usually co-prescribe zinc and carbocisteine to provide complementary action against RTI, addressing both sticky, hard to expel phlegm and lowered immunity. 

“Together, this is an ideal combination that effectively relieves cough by aiding in the expulsion of phlegm with decreased bacterial adhesion to cells and helping in faster recovery by boosting immunity,” says Dr. Agra.

Unilab’s over-the-counter drug Solmux Advance contains Dr. Agra-approved combination of zinc and carbocisteine. The company says it is the only carbocisteine with zinc in the market proven to give relief to patients by helping speed up their recovery from cough. 

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