Coughing – Causes, Cures and Contagion

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Nearly all of us have had an episode of coughing – the sudden reflex that we humans (and many animals) experience to clear the throat or breathing passage.

When a cough lasts less than three weeks, doctors refer to it as an “acute cough.” One that continues between three and eight weeks is known as a “sub-acute cough,” and a cough that endures for more than eight weeks is considered to be a “chronic cough.”

You might decide to go to see a doctor, however, if a cough lasts for even more than a few days. That’s a wise decision and not an uncommon one. In fact, it’s the number one reason why people see their doctors.

Coughing a lot can be a sign of a respiratory infection. A doctor will want to hear how the cough sounds because it’s a symptom, not a disease.

It’s difficult to mistake the sound of a cough, and the source of that distinctive noise is something called the “glottis.” It’s located in the middle part of the larynx, in the area where the vocal cords are found. The sound of coughing is created by an explosive release of air when the glottis opens.

A prolonged spell of coughing can be frustrating to you and annoying to those around you. If you’ve got a long wait to see your doctor, or you’re confident that your cough is not an indication of anything serious, there are many natural remedies that can be applied to suppress it.

Licorice lovers are in luck: this root not only has a soothing flavor, but it also acts as a demulcent and expectorant. Place a couple of licorice sticks made with licorice root in a quart of boiling water and steep for 24 hours. Sip throughout the day.

Garlic may not keep a vampire at bay, but it might banish that cough. Garlic is also an expectorant, and it’s packed with antiviral and antibiotic properties. Smash a couple of garlic cloves and add them to two quarts of water on low heat for an hour. Strain and sip.

And here’s the quick fix that most people prefer: mix one tablespoon of honey – a natural expectorant – with a cup of hot water and sip. Many like to add a bit of lemon juice for its taste and curative properties, too.

One other aspect of coughing to keep in mind is how easily it spreads germs. The Center for Disease Control estimates that an uninhibited cough can send germs flying through the air up to 6 feet (2 meters), so it’s smart to give a wide berth to anyone seen coughing in public.

And, of course, be sure to cover your own mouth with a handkerchief or tissue when you cough, especially during the first two to four days of symptoms when a cold is most contagious.

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