Coughs

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Finding a good herbalist

Many of the recommendations in this article are entirely suitable for a person to use themselves or for their child but, if there are other issues that need attention and you know that you need further help, or to get what should be the best available 'tools', the herbs, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to support you, there's some suggestions on how you might go about finding such a person here

Personal experience

Coughing, being able to clear the lungs, can be necessary to the point of being essential to preserve life. Coughing can also be painful, debilitating and more or less useless if there is nothing to actually cough up. The cough is a blunt reflex, it's on or off. Anything from heavy blobs of mucus to the tiniest irritant can get it going, and sometimes it can't find the off button no matter how long it goes on, even if ends up with nothing to show for it.

The great majority of my personal experience in treating people with coughs has been with chronic cases. The acute infection has passed but they are still coughing, often months later. Everyone around them, including people who normally have the patience of saints, is being driven mad by it and the sufferer is simply worn out.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, conventional medicine is heavily if not completely subsidised, the majority of these people have had numerous visits with their GP or with Respiratory specialists and are still not coming right, i.e. these are the hard cases.

The facts are that I have had an excellent success rate in this area, by using the old ways of herbs and healing that have been with us for millennia for the simple reason that they work. We always have to treat holistically to get a good result and, at the least, that nearly always means supporting the immune system in some way. I will talk about going deeper in a little later but want to start by sharing some simple herbal cough formulae that usually give great help right away. When it comes time to getting some of these, you can and should read more about them in the A-Z found here

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Productive cough formula

The action of these herbs will be to aid the cough, not to suppress it in any way. This is for a cough that is already 'productive' i.e. there is phlegm, mucus and catarrh being 'expectorated' or coughed up, but there is a need to support and ease the process along.

When these are the right kind of herbs to use, the effect of this kind of remedy is that the person says that it got a lot easier to clear their lungs, so they soon needed to cough much less but, at least at first, and usually shortly after starting to take it, they often report that they were coughing more, but that the cough was a lot more productive and a lot easier to get it over with.

Elecampane 100mls
Mullein 100mls
White Horehound 100mls
Golden Rod 100mls
Licorice root 80 mls
Thyme 40 mls
Aniseed 40mls

These liquid extracts combine into a formula to make 560mls. This will just fit in to a 500ml amber pharm round bottle. We make our own tinctures from organic dried herbs, so it might be important that you understand that the optimal dose range will vary with different preparations made by different companies or practitioners.

For an adult or a teenager, I would typically start with a dose of around 6 mls, four times a day until things were much improving, then reduce the dose to 3 times a day, then twice and so on. The above mixture would be given to a person who had been stuck with a cough for a long time. We would expect to need to treat them for a several weeks to get a very good result so this would be enough for 3-4 weeks when used at the high end of the dose range. A smaller bottle could be made for a shorter course or, if treating a child, with smaller doses (e.g. 4 or 5 mls for a child from 9-13, 3 or 4 mls for a child from 6-9, 2 or 3 mls for a child from 2-5 and 1-2 mls for a 1 to 2 year-old)


Inula helenium (Elecampane)

Non-Productive cough formula

These herbs are for those cases where coughing is simply not helping, i.e. a non-productive cough. These are the worst kinds of coughs, as they can go on for so long and cause much pain, exhaustion and stress. The action of the herbs will be to release spasm and tension out of the respiratory system. The person may still initially cough more after a few minutes of taking the herbs, so be prepared for that, but this phase should quickly pass whereupon they will soon start feeling themselves able to breathe more freely and deeply.

Wild Cherry bark 160mls
Marshmallow root 160mls
Licorice root 100mls
Aniseed 80mls
Lobelia 60mls*

Again, this is a 560mls formula which will just fit into a 500ml amber pharm round and again be aware that the following dose recommendation is based on the maximum safe and effective level for tinctures that we make ourselves from organic dried herbs.

*Lobelia is a very potent muscle relaxant and will create mild nausea if taken in a dose that is too high. This can be offset by using Ginger and, before reducing the amount if there is any discomfort, I would suggest having some sips of a strong Ginger tea at the same time as taking this cough formula, a recipe for this is written up in the page on Ginger found here. In any case, the other herbs will still work very well if Lobelia is not available or you prefer not to take that risk, but it can be such a great ally in these situations that I suggest you use it if you can.

Again, for an adult or a teenager I would typically start with a dose of around 6 mls, four times a day until things were much improving, then reduce the dose to 3 times a day, then twice and so on. The above mixture would be given to a person who had been stuck with a non-productive cough for a long time. We would expect to need to treat them for a several weeks to get a very good result so this would be enough for 3-4 weeks when used at the high end of the dose range. A smaller bottle could be made for a shorter course or, if treating a child, with smaller doses (e.g. 4 or 5 mls for a child from 9-13, 3 or 4 mls for a child from 6-9, 2 or 3 mls for a child from 2-5 and 1-2 mls for a 1 to 2-year-old)


Prunus serotina (Wild Cherry bark)

Going deeper in

A remedy that gives fast and palpable relief is essential to begin with. However, if we will get a truly excellent result, in other words a cure, we must go deeper in and try to treat the cause. To get there, we must ask a few vital questions.

Is the environment healthy?

If a person is living in a cold climate or season and they are getting chills on to their chest then they must take action to protect themselves by keeping their homes warm and being smart about their clothing, for example, using a scarf to keep cold off their chest.

If the person is living or working in a damp environment, then they must be aware of the possibility that there may be invisible mould spores that they are breathing in that are causing inflammation, an immune reaction, and a subsequent cough. The bedroom is the most important place to get clear of mould and damp. As non-herbal a recommendation as this is, use bleach to kill any possible mould lurking in nooks and crannies and, if possible, get a dehumidifier to remove the dampness and keep it out.

How much a person is naturally cooler or hotter, and at the same time innately dryer or damper, will have a deep effect on how they relate to their environment and whether it will substantially aid their cough to shift the balance, for example towards getting warmer or dryer. This deep and interesting subject is introduced further in the section on constitutional medicine found here

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Is the diet healthy?

A poor diet, one that is too high in sugars or processed foods, is a major stress to the immune system and may be the primary cause behind why it cannot resolve a chronic infection or inflammation in the respiratory system. To read a more detailed discussion on good nutrition, read here

However, the biggest problem related to diet and chronic coughs can actually be from an undiagnosed food allergy or intolerance. This is an important subject in its own right and, f it needs further exploration, read here

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Do the lungs need cleaning?

We naturally and correctly associate coughing with infection, but it is not widely known that there are many types of microbial life that normally live in the lungs and that we are perfectly adapted to having them inside us all the time. It is completely normal to have plenty of mucus and microbes throughout the respiratory system and this material, along with the waste products produced by breathing, along with the debris that comes in through the air, all leads to us needing a process that continually cleans our lungs.

This process, one with the evocative name of the 'mucociliary escalator', allows for material to be wafted up by tiny hairs through the upside-down tree of the respiratory system until it comes up enough to be swallowed back into the 'cauldron' of the stomach. However, sometimes an overgrowth of an aggressive micro-organism, or an increased production of mucus, can trigger a coughing reflex that, in effect, is there to simply speed up the normal self-cleaning of the lungs.

With this understanding, it makes a lot of sense to help the lungs do what they are trying to do anyway and, for many of my patients who are caught in a cycle of coughing, I will get them doing plenty of 'steam-inhalations' to help the cleansing process along.

For a severe case, I recommend using dried Chamomile flowers & Olbas oil combined, for milder cases, the simple method of drops of Olbas in half a cup of hot water can be all that is needed. Likewise, the worse the condition, the more it can and should be done. Steam cleansing is not a treatment that can be overdone and the process is written up in more practical detail here

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Is there excess stress at home or work?

No-one should be in any doubt that stress can profoundly affect us at a physical level. Many people get digestive troubles when they are under too much stress, many get back or neck problems, some people put their tension into the way they breathe and this, in turn, impacts on the health of their lungs.

Ideally, a holistic approach will see a process whereby the causes of stress are worked on and dealt with, and the support of an experienced practitioner may be of much value in working through those matters. In the meanwhile, right now, there are a number of excellent herbs to help with excess tension in the nervous system and likewise there are some simple and practical breathing techniques and other methods to help rapidly alleviate stress and tension. The best of what works is written up in the article on anxiety found here

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Does the immune system need support?

Whether there are or aren't any issues that need to be worked on in the environment, the diet, or from stress, most people with chronic coughs will need to support their immune systems to become well. The more they can treat any causes to a lowered or imbalanced immune system, the less treatment for less time they will need, but it is almost always a core part of the initial treatment program.

I personally and particularly highly rate the two herbs Echinacea & Astragalus root to support immune health. I also use a lot of Hawthorn & Reishi mushroom in a combined capsule form for immunity. Vitamin D can be a game-changer when it is needed. Withania root and Panax Ginseng can help nourish a person who has become too depleted to fight and win their battles. Garlic can be like a natural antibiotic that comes to the rescue when everything in pharmaceutical medicine has proven ineffective...

Those are some of the best and most reliable allies in this important area but of course different practitioners will have their own preferences for what they most know and trust. For more of my own thoughts on the subject of immunity, read here


Echinacea angustifolia

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd