If coughing shakes the body, it's an important protective reflex: the airways get rid of foreign bodies, which is more or less violent and uncomfortable. Coughing should not be suppressed for the invaders to disappear as quickly as possible.
Cough as a companion to a cold
The cool season with its often wet and cold weather makes our defenses disappear, you rarely get past colds. Too often coughing accompanies a cold when foreign bodies invade the airways, such as viruses.
Around 200 types of viruses are now known that can cause a cold. About one third of all viral infections cause a nagging cough.
In appearance, the lungs resemble a tree that is upside down: the trachea forms the main trunk and divides into two main branches with two treetops - the branching branches are the bronchi. At the end of the smallest branches, the bronchioles, the pulmonary alveoli, also called "alveoli", are grape-like. They are necessary for gas exchange in the lungs.
It is estimated that humans have about 300 million alveoli. Although the alveoli are tiny, their enormous amount creates an area of about 100 square meters - the size of a tennis court. Here, the air exchange takes place: After inhalation passes through a very thin wall, the oxygen from the alveoli into the blood. The carbon dioxide, a waste product from the vessels, invariably enters the alveoli and is exhaled.
Fight the invaders
But the lung can do more than just supply us with oxygen: it is capable of expelling inhaled foreign matter. The bronchi are specially equipped with a special mucous membrane, the ciliated epithelium. The mucus produced by ciliated epithelium is much more viscous than saliva. It absorbs dust, smoke and other particles that have penetrated into the lungs during inhalation. Normally, these foreign particles are disposed of silently.
In case of a cold, the viruses start an attack on the mucous membranes, they become infected and produce more mucus. The purpose of coughing is to cleanse the respiratory organs of too much mucus and debris. At the onset of the cold, the cough irritates the respiratory tract but there is still little mucus present - the cough is "dry". As the disease progresses, mucus is increasingly formed as a result of the existing inflammation, which narrows the airways and obstructs breathing. In particularly bad cases, the shortness of breath can be expressed in whistling breath sounds.
When should you go to the doctor?
If coughing fits occur acutely, they are accompanied by fever, yellowish-green, purulent, or even bloody expectoration, with accelerated, laborious or painful breathing as well as with rattling or whistling noises with breathing an immediate physician visit is necessary. If the cough lasts longer than a week, you should also seek medical advice during pregnancy and lactation and in children under the age of seven.
Cough-releasing and cough-suppressing drugs
If the mucus does not dissolve and the coughing is very difficult, doctors and pharmacists recommend so-called muco-pharmaceuticals and secretolytics such as N-acetylcysteine and ambroxol. These substances ensure that the mucus becomes thinner. Similar effects also have essential oils such as myrtol, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, aniseed oil or thyme oil for inhalation and herbal preparations for oral use with thyme and ivy extract, liquorice juice or primrose root. These funds should be used during the day.
There are also cough suppressants, the "antitussives". Doctors advise you to take such cough suppressant drugs only in dry cough and especially at night, so that you come to a peaceful sleep. In this case, the doctor prescribes preparations containing codeine and dihydrocodeine in the form of tablets, sustained-release capsules or juice. Herbal medicines for inhibiting the coughing stimulus are extracts of ribwort, sundew, marshmallow root, Icelandic moss or coltsfoot.