Cough - causes and treatment

Cough - causes and treatment

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Cough: A sensible protective reflex of the body
Coughing is a protective reflex, in which an exhalation blow hits the initially closed glottis in the larynx at high speed, which then opens. The cough reflex serves in this way, as does the clearing of the throat, the excretion of foreign bodies (e.g. after respiration of food) or irritants that hinder the breathing process.

How does cough develop?

According to the modern western concept, the lungs and bronchial passages mainly serve to release carbon dioxide and water and, in particular, to absorb oxygen, in order to ensure the vital exchange of all body cells. In this sense, cough is a sign of a blockage of the airways, which is caused by the penetration of foreign bodies, irritants, allergens or infectious germs (viruses, bacteria), inflammation.

Coughing can therefore be a "normal" reaction to a foreign body or the like. be that disappears again after a short time. However, it can also be a disease symptom that can occur both acutely and chronically, with or without sputum. Relatively harmless causes come into question, e.g. a cold or allergy, but also serious illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pneumonia. In the case of an atypical cough that persists for more than 4 weeks, returns regularly or does not respond to treatment, bronchial carcinoma (lung cancer) should be excluded by a specialist examination.

Causes of cough: From bronchitis to pneumonia

However, cough is much more common than acute bronchitis in the cold season as part of a viral flu infection with other symptoms such as fever, runny nose (rhinitis) and body aches. Cough is also acute in bronchiolitis, pneumonia or acute larynx (laryngitis) and - especially in children - as whooping cough (pertussis) or when measles begins.

Seizures appear like cough in bronchial asthma or allergic asthma. Cough persistent (chronic) for more than three or four weeks can be caused by tuberculosis (TB) as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or smoking cough. Drug intolerance (e.g. against ACE inhibitors), pulmonary embolism, heart failure, pulmonary hypertension (as a result of heart disease or multiple pulmonary embolism) and also reflux disease can be behind the symptom. It is also possible that the cough occurs in acute stressful situations or as a result of psychological internal stress or severe tension (psychogenic cough).

Cough with sputum in the morning

Especially in the morning the cough can be based on a so-called "bronchiectasis". These are pathological, cylindrical or sac-shaped enlargements of the bronchi, which result from irreversible destruction of the bronchial walls. Bronchiectasis can be congenital, but the widening is more often the result of chronic and allergic-related respiratory diseases. Measles or other infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and whooping cough can also be the trigger, as well as other acquired causes, such as inflammation of the airways from a bronchial tumor.

It is characterized by a frequent, especially morning (chronic) cough with large amounts of foamy and slimy sputum, which is purulent and smells unpleasant. Therefore, many sufferers also suffer from bad breath, and coughing up blood is also possible. In addition, bronchiectasis can cause symptoms such as fever (as a result of chronic bronchodilation), tiredness and poor performance, and often sufferers of bronchitis and pneumonia.

How is cough treated?

Conventional therapy initially focuses on medicinal mucus solution and the administration of antibiotics with bacterial involvement. Traditional Chinese medicine, for example, attributed the quality of moisture to the organ of the lungs, which was strongly associated with the body juice "mucus". Accordingly, dry, hot herbs were given in the case of an excess (expectorant cough) and herbs with moist, cold qualities in the case of dry, burning cough.

For example, if there is bronchiectasis with sack-shaped bronchial tubes, an important part of the therapy is breathing exercises and physiotherapy measures. Inhaling expectorants or brine solutions means that the mucus in the bronchi can be liquefied and then coughed up. If necessary, medications such as Cortisone and antibiotics are used, in particularly severe cases the bronchiectasis can also be surgically removed.

Naturopathy and home remedies for cough

The modern, naturopathic treatment will focus not only on the affected organ, but also on the immune system and with various naturopathic treatments, e.g. Colon cleansing, heart restoration, drainage procedures, nutritional and order therapy support the body's self-healing powers. Depending on the medical model, acupuncture, homeopathy, isopathy, bioresonance and other methods are used to achieve profound healing. Supportive or in lighter cases, there are options for self-treatment for coughs and for strengthening the immune system.

Here, for example, in the case of persistent cough and mucous bronchial tubes, well-tried curd cheese packs come into consideration, which can also be used well in children. Apply some low-fat curd cheese in the middle of a tea towel and beat the two empty ends together. Now the wrap is e.g. brought to room temperature with a hot water bottle, placed on the chest and then covered with a wool scarf or silk scarf. The pad can remain on the body as long as it is good for the patient and can therefore be left overnight.
Potato wraps are also said to have a healing and beneficial effect on coughs, which is mainly due to the slow, continuous release of heat. In this variant, soft-boiled potatoes are wrapped in a linen cloth and crushed. The wrapping is then left to cool briefly to avoid burns, then placed on the chest and left there until it is completely cold.

Other effective home remedies for cough include: a tea infusion made from cowslips, thyme or ribwort. Relaxing warm baths with essential oils can relieve the cough and relieve mucus in the sense of aromatherapy. Here are e.g. a bath with eucalyptus or spruce needle oil, however, care should be taken that such a health bath should not be carried out in case of fever or poor circulation.

Instead of cough syrup, a homemade onion syrup made from a chopped onion and a little honey can be very effective. However, it should be borne in mind here that remedies with honey are not suitable for small children and infants. Likewise, essential oils should be clarified in advance whether they can be used in small patients. However, herbal cough syrups with fennel, thyme or ivy extract are harmless. Another tried and tested home remedy for children's cough is a bowl of water that is placed on the heater and thus provides low-irritation air. Because often a mild cough worsens due to too dry and warm room air. (jvs, nr)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Social Science Nina Reese, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Sabine Beck et al .: Cough, DEGAM Guideline No. 11, German Society for General Medicine and Family Medicine, (accessed August 22, 2019), AWMF
  • Noah Lechtzin: Cough in Adults, MSD Manual, (accessed August 22, 2019), MSD
  • Robert Kopf: cough, bronchitis - treatment with medicinal plants and naturopathy, BookRix Verlag, 2013

ICD codes for this disease: R05ICD codes are internationally valid encryption codes for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

Video: Chronic Cough: When Is It Serious? (December 2022).