Eight Ways to Treat COPD-Related Coughing

Eight COPD Cough Treatment Options

COPD often leads to several symptoms including coughing. People that have COPD often have a chronic productive cough. Coughing can contribute to fatigue and shortness of breath.

Although there is currently no cure for COPD, there are treatments that may reduce symptoms including coughing.

Causes of COPD Cough

If you have COPD, there are a few reasons that chronic coughing may develop. COPD often leads to airway inflammation, which can trigger a cough. It’s also often common for the mucus glands in the lungs to become bigger in people that have COPD, which may mean an increase in mucus production.

COPD also damages the hair-like projections in the lungs, which are called cilia. The cilia are needed to move mucus out of the lungs. If the cilia are not working properly, it can make it difficult to cough mucus out. The combination of increased mucus production and damaged cilia can mean more phlegm in the lungs and increased difficulty getting it out.

COPD Cough Treatment Options

If you have a chronic COPD cough, it can affect other symptoms. For instance, continued coughing can make chest tightness worse. It can also make breathlessness increase.

Fortunately, there are several COPD cough treatment options. In many cases, a combination of the treatments below may be effective. Consider the following:

Inhaled Steroids

Inhaled steroids help decrease airway inflammation. If inflammation is decreased, it may reduce irritation and coughing. Inhaled steroids are typically taken even when symptoms are not present. They are considered a maintenance medication to prevent symptoms. They do not treat a sudden bout of coughing.

Mucus Clearing Device

People that have COPD often have mucus that is sticky or thick, which can make it difficult to cough up. A mucus clearance device can help mobilize the secretions so you can cough it out. There are a variety of mucus clearance devices including a vest that is worn over the chest and causes a vibration to loosen the phlegm.

Portable handheld devices are also an option. Devices, such as the Aerobika and Acapella, provide a controlled vibration that oscillates the small and large airways. The vibration helps loosen the mucus from the airway walls to promote effective coughing.

Take a Long-Acting Beta-Agonist

Long-acting beta-agonists are considered a long-term bronchodilator, which opens the airways. Dilating the airway may reduce coughing. Long-acting bronchodilators are often taken once or twice a day as a maintenance medication.

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Drink Plenty of Fluids

Since mucus can become thick and sticky, drinking plenty of fluids may help thin the mucus, which makes it easier to get out. If you do not have any fluid restrictions, drink several glasses of water a day. Hot drinks, such as tea, are also helpful to expel mucus.

Try Honey

Honey is considered a natural cough suppressant.

Some studies including a small one that involved adults with COPD indicated that taking honey decreased coughing. Although honey may not completely eliminate coughing, it may reduce it a bit. Honey can also soothe the throat, which might become irritated by chronic coughing.

Since honey does not have side effects, it may be worth a try.

Treat Co-Morbidities

People with COPD are not immune from developing other conditions that also contribute to coughing. For example, gastric reflux disease (GERD) can also cause chronic coughing. Certain medications including some hypertension drugs may also increase coughing.

It’s important to talk with your doctor to determine if coughing may be caused by not only COPD but other issues as well.

Reduce Triggers

Certain factors may make symptoms of COPD including coughing worse.

Environmental irritants, such as pollution and smoke, are often common triggers. Household cleaners, perfume, and scented candles can also be irritating to the airways.

Keep track of when coughing flare-ups, and determine if there is a pattern. Once you identify triggers, you can take the needed steps to reduce exposure.

Do a Huff Cough

A COPD cough can be exhausting. If mucus cannot be coughed out, it can make you feel like you are choking and lead to panic. Fatigue and panic can contribute to ineffective coughing. Learning to cough more efficiently is one way to treat a COPD cough.

A huff cough is a technique used to cough more effectively. To do a huff cough follow the steps below:

  • Sit up straight.
  • Take a deep breath in using your diaphragm. If possible, hold the breath for two or three seconds.
  • Forcefully let out a burst of air as you say the word “huff.” Saying “huff” can help keep the back of your throat open.
  • Do a couple of huff coughs, and rest for about 10 seconds.
  • Repeat the cycle a few times.

It may be most effective to use a mucus clearance device first, and then do a huff cough after the mucus is loosened.

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