Treating Cough and Catarrh the Right Way

By Dr. Okechukwu Amako, MBBS (Ibadan)
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During the harmattan and rainy season, a lot of people, both children and adults, come down with a cold (cough and catarrh). Cough and catarrh are caused are caused by viruses known as common cold viruses. These viruses can infect healthy people when someone with cough and catarrh coughs, sneezes or talks, producing droplets which carry them in the air. Because common cold viruses can be spread from infected people through the air, the rainy season and harmattan period are perfect for these viruses, accounting for why so many have cough and catarrh during these periods.

The common cold viruses infect a healthy person by entering his or her body through the mouth, nose and even the eyes. Also, a healthy person is likely to catch a cold if he or she comes into contact with someone who has cough and catarrh, either through a handshake or sharing things like spoons or towels, and then touches his or her mouth, nose or eyes without properly washing his or her hands.

Cough and catarrh can be very discomforting because, in addition to the cough and catarrh (runny or congested nose) that are the usual symptoms, the affected person may have a fever and/or headache, complain of sore throat, sneeze very often and feel weak. These symptoms can be slightly severe and more discomforting in children.

However, the body usually takes care of cough and catarrh in most people within one week, even without any form of treatment. This is because the symptoms of cough and catarrh are the manifestations of the body's immune system actions against the common cold virus invading the body.

Hence, the right treatment for cough and catarrh is not targeted against the common cold virus because the body's immune system takes care of the virus, but towards this action of the immune system to calm it down a bit, thereby relieving the affected person of the discomforting symptoms of cough and catarrh. This is why it is very wrong to take antibiotics for cough and catarrh: antibiotics are not meant for and don't work against viruses but for bacteria and bacteria don't usually cause cough and catarrh.

Treating cough and catarrh the right way means using medications and applying some remedies that relieve the discomforting symptoms. Most of these medications are over-the-counter, so you can walk into a good pharmacy and get them:

1. Analgesics like paracetamol can be used if there is headache or fever.

2. Medications broadly known as antihistamines help in relieving symptoms like runny nose and sneezing. The common side effect of this class of drugs is dizziness or sedation (prolonged sleeping). A common example is piriton

3. Another group of drugs for relieving the symptoms of cough and catarrh is a combination of an antihistamine, a cough-suppressing compound, a decongestant (helps to relieve the stuffy nose). Some preparations may have an additional class of compound that helps you to easily cough out the thick yellow mucous substance that accumulates in your lungs when you have cough and catarrh. An example is the cough syrup that appears under different brand names.

4. Symptoms like stuffy nose can also be relieved by taking a hot tea or just drinking hot water.

Common cold is self-limiting, your body takes care of the virus, and together with the above medications and remedies to relieve its discomforting symptoms, you get better in a few days’ time. Moreover, it is important that you try as much as possible to limit the spread of the virus to other people by always washing your hands with soap and water after coughing or sneezing, closing your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or a tissue paper when coughing or sneezing.

Also important: Do not give over-the-counter cough and catarrh medicines to children under 4 years of age without a doctor's prescription because some of these medicines may have life-threatening side effects in babies and younger children.

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For more advice and help, feel free to consult a doctor.
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Published Friday, June 16th 2017

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