Coughs tend to fall into one of two categories, either dry or chesty. Someone suffering from a chesty cough will expel phlegm and mucus when coughing.
Coughing is simply a natural reﬂex which keeps our throat and airways clear of blockages.
Therefore a cough normally indicates an inflammation in the respiratory passages which may be the result of an infection like cold or flu. In the case of chesty coughs, it is normally mucus or phlegm on the chest that is coughed up through the duration of the symptoms.
Most coughs are described as acute, meaning that they appear suddenly and normally do not last longer than 2-3 weeks.
They are often due to a cold, ﬂu or sinus infection that in turn causes a build-up of phlegm or mucus on the chest. Smoking cigarettes, allergies and asthma are also common causes of coughs.
In some cases a cough can be a symptom of a more serious condition. These could include:
- Lung infections like pneumonia or acute bronchitis (may start suddenly but then linger on).
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema or chronic bronchitis).
If your symptoms are persistent or you feel you may be suffering from any of the conditions above, seek advice from your GP. For most people a chesty cough will pass quickly and can be treated by a number of products available from your local community pharmacy. There are a number of remedies available for the different types of cough that most commonly affect people. Many of the remedies available for chesty coughs contain an expectorant. Expectorants work by thinning out the mucus in the sinuses and the throat.
They also stimulate coughing by increasing the level of secretions occurring in the airways.
Examples of ingredients which are expectorant include guifenesin and citric acid.
Some cough remedies also contain a decongestant such as pseudoephedrine which relieves swelling in the nasal passages and helps unblock the nose.
In some cases, the ingredients in cough remedies can interact with prescription medicines so you should always mention any medicine you are taking to your pharmacist when purchasing a remedy.
You should also never use a cough remedy for longer than is recommended in the patient information leaflet or label.
If the phlegm that is expelled is coloured, usually yellow or brown then it could be a sign of a chest infection – speak to your pharmacist about the symptoms.