People’s Pharmacy: Here are some tips to ease a chronic cough | Pharmacy

At this time of year, lots of people are coughing. If you go to a movie or a concert, chances are good that the people around you will be hacking away. Ditto for work or religious services.

A cough is the body’s response to irritation or infection. It’s an automatic attempt to expel pathogens, allergens or pollutants. Your lungs make mucus in response to upper respiratory tract infections. A so-called productive cough moves this gunk up and out of the airways.

But, not uncommonly, the inflammation may linger long after the infection is gone. As a result, the cough may go on for weeks or even months.

When a cough lingers and interferes with sleep or leads to vomiting, it is no longer adaptive. Sometimes it can lead to unplanned urine release or even fainting.

The leading cause of chronic coughing is smoking. But people who don’t smoke also can have a cough that persists much longer than expected. According to the Harvard Health Letter, the primary causes of a nagging cough are postnasal drip, asthma, acid reflux, chronic bronchitis and an ACE inhibitor blood pressure medicine causing cough as a side effect. Postnasal drip may begin with a cold, the flu or an infection like respiratory syncytial virus and continue on much longer, resulting in a post-infectious cough.

Someone who has a fever or is short of breath along with the cough should see a doctor. Night sweats, weight loss and lack of appetite that accompany a cough also are red flags, as are wheezing or coughing up blood. These signal a serious medical problem.

What can you do to calm a normal cough that is simply dragging on? A cough due to postnasal drip may respond to an antihistamine or decongestant. But men with prostate enlargement should avoid such drugs, as they could make urination difficult. A nasal spray containing a steroid might be helpful if decongestants are not an option.

If the chronic cough is due to asthma or to acid reflux, the doctor will be able to prescribe medicines to ease either of those underlying conditions.

Some people try an over-the-counter cough medicine containing dextromethorphan (DM). Although these medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the scientific evidence supporting DM against cough is fairly weak (Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, September 2000). Researchers have bemoaned the lack of evidence for effective treatments to help control post-infectious cough (British Journal of General Practice, October 2018).

What other cough remedies might be helpful? Some people find that applying Vicks VapoRub or Mentholatum to the soles of the feet at bedtime can calm a nighttime cough. Menthol, eucalyptol and thymol found in Vicks have cough-suppressing activity. But they won’t necessarily be useful against a chronic cough.

Another inexpensive and old-fashioned remedy would be a homemade cough syrup. Some people find that onions simmered slowly in sugar syrup make a helpful and tasty cough remedy. Others are enthusiastic about thyme tea or thyme cough syrup. Dr. Tieraona Low Dog has offered these instructions: Pour 1 cup near-boiling water over 2 tablespoons of dried thyme and steep for 10 minutes. Strain the concoction and add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and ½ cup of organic honey. It may be saved in the refrigerator for up to a week. The dose for adults and children over 18 months is 1 tablespoon. You’ll find this recipe along with many others in our book “Quick & Handy Home Remedies,” available at

Q: I was using a cane to walk because of the pain I was experiencing in both knees from arthritis. I was seeing a chiropractor for back pain from a fall and told him I wished he could help my knee pain as well.

He told me about grape juice and Certo. I’ve tried this remedy for two weeks now. The results are amazing! I take it twice a day, and the pain has subsided completely.

Answer: The mixture of 2 teaspoons of Certo (liquid fruit pectin) in 3 ounces of purple grape juice twice a day is a popular remedy for arthritis. Concord grape juice has anti-inflammatory activity, and so does pectin. Home canners are familiar with Certo, used to thicken homemade jams and jellies. Others may have to search the supermarket for the canning section to find it.

You can learn more about this and many other remedies for joint pain in our little (104-page) book “The Graedons’ Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.” It may be purchased for $12.95 plus $3 shipping and handling from The People’s Pharmacy, Dept. AFA, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717. You can find it online at

King Features Syndicate

Questions for Joe and Teresa Graedon can be emailed via their website: www.Peoples

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