Full Disclaimer: This post is being written as I have had a nasty virus that hit my chest straight away. No runny nose, no fever, just an elephant sitting on my chest feeling that makes breathing a bit laboured and causing the worst coughing fits! Sometimes these viruses just have to run their course but there are a few things we can do to break up the congestion and ease that cough.
Even as a naturopath and dealing with congestion in my young kids, I still LOATHE dealing with or even saying the words phlegm and mucous. It's gross and I apologise if reading about getting rid of it makes you squirmy but our respiratory mucous plays such an important role in our body and it's just when it is in excess that it is unpleasant. Otherwise that mucous is cleverly lining our respiratory tract, just like the mucosal lining in our gut, and is keeping everything in tip top shape. If you didn't have enough of this lining you would suffer from even more infections and be vulnerable to more disease states. It's just that some viruses cause inflammation in this area and our body goes crazy trying to fight it and thus creates WAY too much mucous sometimes. Bless it's cotton socks, it's trying to do the right thing but the body gets thrown out of balance when we get sick.
Some viruses can cause coughs to hang around for weeks and weeks unfortunately and it can be such a hard time when you or your little ones are suffering from it.
Sleepless nights, sore ribs and back from prolonged coughing.....but viruses can only be helped by boosting our immunity and hitting the natural remedies. If you have a secondary bacterial infection, this can be treated with antibiotics but it's not often that this happens and turning to the antibiotics too quickly is often pointless and you will also decrease your immune response as well hurting your gut microbiome by killing off all the good bacteria (as antibiotics don't differentiate between the goodies and the baddies). So unless your fever spikes again or you get a fever for the first time during your cough coupled with sharp pain in your chest or sinuses, assume it's viral and just get as much rest as you can while doing a few things (or all!) from this list below.
1) Fake Humidity
Winter is often a time when coughs hang around the longest because the air has less moisture in it and so our airways are more likely to stay irritated for longer. Coughs can be eased by humidity so simulating that humidity will help ease your cough. Think long steamy showers, infrared saunas when you are up to leaving the house again (unless you are a lucky duck with one at home!) and using humidifiers and vapourisers. Use eucalyptus oil, tea tree oil and lavender (on their own or as a mix) to further ease your congestion and fight the viral particles! You can also just stick your head over a big bowl of boiled water with a tea towel over your head and inhale the steam (you can also add those essential oils that I mentioned)
2) Warm drinks and warm foods help open your airways.
Drink as many herbal and warm waters as you can throughout the day. Soups are so wonderful for congestion and chicken soup in particular should be eaten at least once or twice a day while you are congested. This is because you can add a lot of mucous decreasing foods into a soup such as onion, celery, garlic shallots and spring onion and chicken soup in particular helps to speed up the movement of mucous through the body to eliminate it more quickly. A batch of my Chicken Soup for the Soul is highly recommended! Also, Parsley is a great herb to add to all your meals at this time as it releases histamines which will help heal you faster. And stay away from mucous producing foods such as dairy, sugar and refined and processed foods.
3) Warm lemon and raw honey drinks aren't just an old wives tale.
The warm water actually helps loosen and dissolve the phlegm. It also helps to open the airways which will result in an easier elimination of the mucous. Hydration is so important when you have congestion and the more times you drink warm or hot water, the more you will help dissolve the phlegm. The addition of lemon juice adds extra vitamin C and helps increase the health of your lymphatic system (responsible for removing toxins and waste from your body) and the raw honey helps ease your cough as well as having antimicrobial properties which can reduce your infection. If adding lemon and honey to your water, make sure it's luke warm and not 'hot' so you don't kill the properties of the honey and diminish the Vitamin C in the lemon. I boil the kettle and add to a half glass of room temperature water with the honey and lemon it it. You can also add ginger to your warm tea (1/2 a teaspoon of ground or a full teaspoon of freshly grated) as ginger helps reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract.
4) Don't use cough suppressants!
The mucous must come up and using suppressants will prolong your infection as it drives the virus deeper into the body without the bodies natural response at play which is to cough (as awful as it can be). Instead, use expectorant herbs that can also soothe the airways making the cough feel less harsh in your body. Herbs such as licorice (don't use if you have high blood pressure), marshmallow, Ivy, thyme, ginger are great natural expectorants and can give you some relief. Either make them up as herbal teas or look for a herbal extract (liquid) at your healthfood store that contains these herbs.
Quercetin is an amazing nutrient that helps breaks down and thin the mucous and ease congestion. It is naturally found in high amounts in onions so the more onion you can eat (raw is best) during this time, the more success you will have. You can even soak sliced onion in some RAW honey for a few hours and then remove the onion and use the honey in your warm drinks or just take a spoonful every few hours. This is a good tip for the kiddies. You can also buy quercetin as a supplement and it is usually in a tablet along with with Vitamin C and other enzymes such as bromelain which will also help break up the phlegm. Ask at your local healthfood store.
6) Immune boosting herbs
Such as Olive Leaf, Echinacea, Andrographis, Garlic and Pau D' Arco are also something you can add to the mix. Boosting your immunity will help you fight infections off as you are increasing your white blood cell count and crating more of an army to go to war with these nasty pasty lurgies! Please read my Top Ten Tips for Boosting Immunity if you want to increase your guard against these bugs and to also help your body fight them off if you are unwell.
Other things to keep in mind with coughs!
~ Pelvic floors that are weak from childbirth or any other reason can cause you distress with prolonged coughing! The force of the cough can further weaken those pelvic floor muscles resulting in temporary incontinence. As if we didn't have enough to deal with! So making sure you are doing your Kiegel exercises is a good idea as well as having some pads handy until you are over the worst.
~ Drink lots of bone broth which contains amino acids such as proline and glycine. These amino acids help strengthen and heal your cartilage. Your ribs are attached with cartilage and your whole rib cage can take a hammering if you have any prolonged coughing. You don't want to tear cartilage during a coughing fit like my poor friend Collette White from Cut Out The Crap as the pain with each cough is something you don't want to have to deal with at any time especially while sick! Bone broth is a good warm brew to sip on while you are trying to increase your warm drinks anyway so get into it and get your gut healthy at the same time which will also improve your immunity!
~ Anything you put into your 'gut' or digestive system will have a direct affect on your respiratory system. The mucosal lining of the body is all connected and we have a huge connective nerve in our spinal nervous system that spans from our gut to our lungs. If you experience any congestion, hayfever, sinus issues or coughing with no virus or infection present, you can do so much by treating your gut as it has a direct reflexive action on all of your upper respiratory system. Read more about getting your gut healthy HERE.
So I hope most of you are staying well and out of the line of fire and for those of you who have been hit, I hope these points will be of help to you! And remember we get sick when our defences are low so even if you have been doing all the right things with your diet and supplements, all it takes is a bit of stress, too little sleep and then it might just be nature's way of telling you to take time out for a little while.
Yours in health,