Wet coughs are characterized by an excessive amount of mucus in the chest. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as mucus coughs.
Doctors classify wet coughs as “productive” as they bring up mucus from the chest. This is distinct from dry coughs and tickly coughs, which are both non-productive coughs resulting from irritation at the back of your throat or pharynx.
Oxygen is brought into our bloodstream via the lungs. The air we breathe moves first through the large and medium sized tubes known as the bronchi and bronchioles. These tubes are lined by mucous membranes, so-called because they produce a layer of mucus that covers the surfaces of the tubes.
This mucus lining has a purpose, trapping unwanted particles such as dust, bacteria and viruses entering the respiratory tract, thereby helping to protect the body.
When common cold or flu viruses enter the respiratory system, more mucus is produced in an attempt to wash away the intruders and help fight off the infection. This increased mucus can gather in the respiratory tract, triggering a cough reflex to help remove the extra phlegm.
If a wet cough has troubled you for less than three weeks, some simple home remedies may help get your symptoms under control:
Drink enough water! It’s important to stay hydrated if you’re fighting an infection anyway, but staying properly hydrated can also help keep excess mucus looser so you can cough it up more easily.
Hot water and honey: High-quality honey, such as manuka honey, is soothing to the area but also has unique anti-bacterial properties. Add a slice of lemon for some added vitamin C and extra immune support. Vitamin C is important for helping to maintain the health of mucous membranes and the normal functions of our immune cells.1
Gargling with salt water, which may help stop infections in their tracks.
Inhaling steam from hot water: This again helps loosen excess mucus so you can expel it more easily; it’s also very relaxing, which is helpful during a difficult recovery.
Sleep with your head slightly raised: This makes breathing easier during the night and helps you expel mucus more naturally than if you’re lying flat.
Don’t push yourself too hard: More than ever, now’s the time to rest. Keep warm and get enough sleep to help your immune system operate at its best.2
When it comes to wet coughs, mucus can sometimes feel “stuck” in your chest, and although you might feel like you a have wet cough, nothing comes up. In these situations, you need something to help break up or shift the mucus.
Herbs such as ivy and thyme act as expectorants and so are especially useful here; they’ve been used to treat wet coughs for generations.
Bronchosan combines fresh extracts of ivy and thyme; adults can take it up to five times a day to help treat the symptoms of a wet cough.
If a viral or bacterial infection is the cause, an extract of echinacea, such as in Echinaforce, may work well in combination with Bronchosan to help manage your symptoms and support recovery.
If your cough lasts more than three weeks, some conventional medication may be required to help get your symptoms under control:
- Decongestants or expectorants: These may help break up or loosen some of the phlegm clogging up your chest so that you can cough it up more easily.
- Antibiotics: They may be required if your cough has developed into a secondary, bacterial infection. However, if the root cause is viral, conventional medication options may be more limited and antibiotics won’t help.
- Other cough medicines: Some medications may help suppress coughs, but when it comes to wet coughs it’s important to expel any stubborn mucus. Please note that it’s also important to identify the underlying cause of your cough rather than simply masking the symptoms. Please note that certain cough medications may not be helpful in treating your symptoms. For example, cough syrups or antihistamines may not be the best option for a wet cough.
- Painkillers: While they may help with the irritation caused by persistent coughing, they often won’t help tackle the underlying cause. It’s also important to be careful not to take painkillers unnecessarily.
If you find that the medication prescribed by your doctor isn’t helping, you should return for further investigation. When it comes to wet coughs, it’s important to identify the underlying cause.
Note: If a child under 2 years of age is coughing, self-medication isn’t suitable, so consult a pediatrician.