What's in a cough? How to stop one with an FSA

A cough is one of the body's primary physiological functions, but as you clear your throat regularly throughout the day or contend with coughing fits during the onset of a common cold, do you ever wonder how this bodily response takes place?

What happens each time I cough?

The cough is the body's immune response to the presence of mucous and other irritants in the respiratory system. If there is a substance in your throat or airways that your body considers a threat, the brain will send signals to the muscles in your abdomen and chest wall. This will induce a strong push of air to the lungs in an effort to try and expel the irritant.

Coughing fits can vary greatly in their severity, and there is great force behind this bodily response that can lead to more advanced symptoms like headaches, sleeplessness and even broken ribs in some cases if it is allowed to continue unabated. In fact, during severe coughing fits, the velocity of the air through the nearly closed vocal cords can hit nearly 500 miles per hour.

What are the primary causes of coughs?

While most coughs are caused by outside stimuli like inhaled food, dirt and other particulates, coughs are typically a primary symptom associated with the following conditions:

  • Allergies/Asthma: When inhaling an allergen, such as pollen, mold or other substances, the cough is the body's response to expel this particulate from the body before it can cause lasting symptoms. Shop for allergy products with your FSA.
  • Viruses/Colds: While they it may be unwelcome and uncomfortable, coughing during a cold or flu is the body's effort to remove germy mucous and post-nasal drip from the body so the healing process can continue. These coughs will typically only last as long as the illness, but lung irritation from continued coughing could lead to a "dry" cough that will persist for days or weeks afterward. Shop for products to treat your cold with an FSA
  • Irritants: Many non-medical or non-allergic substances can bring about a coughing fit, such as being exposed to cigarette smoke, cleaning supplies, strong perfumes and other harsh materials.
  • Other medical conditions: Coughs can also arise from a number of potential medical conditions, such as acid reflux, lung inflammation, sleep apnea, long-term illnesses associated with smoking and side effects from taking specific medications.

How are coughs treated?

First and foremost, it's important to classify what type of cough you are suffering from to pursue the best course of treatment. A cough that lasts less than three weeks is an acute cough, one that lasts between 3-8 weeks is a sub-acute cough and one that lasts more than 8 weeks is a chronic cough. While a doctor will check to see if this is a sign of an underlying condition, you can also pursue the following treatment methods on your own:

  • Home remedies: Before visiting the doctor's office, there are a number of helpful treatments you can pursue that can treat your cough/reduce its frequency. A diet heavy in hot fluids like healthy soup/stews or hot beverages with honey that can coat the throat are extremely beneficial. Additionally, using a nebulizer to inhale warm, moist air can also soothe respiratory passages.
  • Cough medicines: Over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines like cough drops and syrup are suppressants that can cause temporary relief, but they do not treat the underlying source of the issue. What may be more effective are cough expectorants (e.g. Mucinex), which thin mucous in the nasal passages to make it easier to expel from the body.
  • Remove cough triggers: Individuals who suffer from allergies/asthma contend with cough symptoms brought on by environmental triggers, such as pollen, pet dander, dust and other particulates. Creating a sterile environment at home is the first step (read how on our blog), as well as steering clear of these allergens in everyday life to control symptoms.

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