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Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to

A cough is a reflex action to clear the throat of any foreign bodies or particles, such as dust.  But when you get a cold, the infected mucus from your nose drips down the back of your throat in a process called post-nasal drip.  This post-nasal drip causes a type of cough that is not helpful at all. Essentially there are two types of cough, a DRY or a CHESTY cough.  Chesty coughs occur when mucus (also called phlegm or catarrh) builds up in the airways and the cough occurs so your body can clear the mucus. 

Chesty cough mixtures such as Viscolex® contain an expectorant which liquefy the catarrh so it can be coughed up easier.  There are other chesty cough mixtures that cause drowsiness which can be used at night to help you sleep.  Sugar free versions of cough mixtures such as Exputex® are available for diabetics. 

Dry cough mixtures contain ingredients such as pholcodeine, codeine and dextromethorphan.  Dry cough mixtures come in drowsy or non-drowsy versions. The likes of pholcodeine and codeine should only be used in moderation as they cause side effects like constipation and can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches and can be addictive even if only using for a few days.

There are also combination cough mixtures available which contain decongestants which are effective if you have a congested head as well as a cough  

You should see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms with your cough:

  • Phlegm which is green, yellow or rusty colour.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Cough lasting longer than two weeks.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain on breathing or coughing.
  • Unexpected loss of weight.
  • Regular night time cough.
  • Harsh barking cough in children (croup).
  • Whooping sound when breathing in after a fit of coughing (whooping cough).

These can be a sign of more serious symptoms

Self Help

Stop smoking

If you are determined to continue smoking, at least stop for the duration of the cough.  This gives the lungs an opportunity to try to clear the infection.


Steam inhalations

These can be very useful, particularly in productive (chesty) coughs.  The steam helps to liquefy lung secretions and the warm, moist air is comforting. Put a towel over your head and inhale the steam from a bowl of steaming (not boiling) water. You can add the likes of eucalyptus oil (inexpensive and available in pharmacies) to help clear the sinuses and give a fresh feeling.


      Increase fluid intake

High fluid intake helps to hydrate the lungs so helps clear them quicker and hot drinks can have a soothing effect. 



As so many different viruses can cause the common cold, no vaccination against it has yet been developed. Some prevention tips are:

  • Wash your hands regularly and properly, especially after touching your nose or mouth and before handling food. 
  • Always sneeze and cough into tissues prevent spreading infection.
  • Do not share cups or kitchen utensils with others.  Use your own cup, plates and cutlery. 

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