Independent of cough type: Coughing is always annoying and unpleasant!
First there is a dry, irritating cough, and then the cough gets productive with the secretion of mucus - but no matter which cough, it is always annoying and unpleasant. Cough is a typical symptom of a common cold, and can be especially disturbing during the night. Coughing should not be suffered in silence - it should be properly treated!
There are two types of airway infections that may accompany a common cold:
- Upper respiratory tract infections, e.g. rhinitis or sinusitis
- Lower respiratory tract infections, e.g. bronchitis
In these cases coughing often is a symptom of acute infection of the upper and/or lower airways. These infections are caused by viruses and usually last from a few days up to two weeks.
Graphic: Stages of cough & active components of Broncophen Syrup
Generally speaking coughs can be divided into two categories: dry cough and productive cough. It is not always easy to distinguish a dry cough from a productive cough and it even becomes more difficult during the overlapping periods.
Dry cough is tickling and irritating, due to an irritation of the throat caused by foreign particles, dust or a throat infection. In this kind of cough no mucus or phlegm is produced. Dry cough is usually treated with antitussives.
Productive (Chesty) cough is characterized by the formation of mucus or phlegm in the lungs. The cough reflex is a mechanism to expel all phlegm in order to clear the lungs. Chesty cough is usually treated with expectorants.
Early treatment is important because otherwise the infection could progress into a more severe form of disease (e.g. bronchitis). Bacteria often take advantage of the immune system being weakened by the viral infection. This may lead to an additional bacterial infection (the so called secondary bacterial infection). One sign which may help to differentiate between bacterial and viral infections is the color of the secreted mucus:
In viral infections the sputum often is mucus-like and whitish. The "common cold" is usually caused by an acute viral infection. Typical symptoms of a common cold are cough, „the snuffles“, sore throat, sometimes muscle pain, headache and elevated temperature or fever.
In bacterial infections the sputum tends to be tinged yellowish-green.
If the symptoms persist for more than 1 week in the latter case, you should see a doctor without delay, since treatment with antibiotics might be necessary.
In cough, herbal preparations such as extracts made from thyme or marshmallow root have a long tradition for symptomatic treatment of cough. Thyme has a secretolytic and spasmolytic effect. Furthermore it increases the activity of the cilia in the bronchi, thereby facilitating expectoration. The root of marshmallow soothes the irritated throat and thereby helps to relieve the urge to cough.