“Would you please explain what a productive cough is? I find that coughing wears me out.”
I’ve been asked variations on this question for all the decades I’ve been practicing internal medicine. A productive, or what we call a “useful” cough is one that removes secretions from the bronchial tree and lungs. It also effectively removes foreign bodies and other irritants, such as dust, from the respiratory tract.
There are various types of cough: hacking, wheezing, paroxysmal (sudden spasm or convulsion), whooping, croupy, nervous (habit) and cigarette cough. If you have a smoker’s cough, it should be looked into since it may be masking a more serious condition.
Some coughs can be quite exhausting, especially if they result from a chronic minor irritation and do not produce any phlegm or sputum. These dry, hacking coughs may be noted as a result of exposure to certain chemicals, air pollutants or an especially dry atmosphere. This is commonly a problem with people who have forced, warm-air heating in the winter. And if there isn’t enough humidity in the air, things can be even worse. A humidifier on your heater will help.
Productive coughs, where phlegm is removed, are commonly the result of inflammations, like colds, bronchitis or pneumonia. These are really eliminations, not diseases – all the symptoms are about stuff trying to get out, e.g., mucus, sneezing, coughing, rashes, sweating, diarrhea, etc. These are best treated by allowing the body to do its housecleaning, i.e., detoxifying. Take some time off from heavy solid foods and go into mostly liquids, fruits. Rest, relax and allow the body to use its energy to flush out the gunk. The use of antibiotics, vaporizers, cough medicines is generally counterproductive: they block the symptoms, preventing the gunk from getting out and just adding to the toxic load. If necessary, use honey with lemon to sooth your throat.
In most cases, it is not wise to suppress the cough, except perhaps, particularly with elderly people, if the cough is very heavy and continuous and prevents sleep, which can put a strain on the heart. Generally speaking, however, the cough is a sign that your immune is doing its job – cleaning house!