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, 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 and there are 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 next to useless if there is nothing to actually cough up.

A cough is a blunt reflex, it is either on or off. Anything has the potential to get tge cough going, from heavy gobbets of mucus that really must be 'expectorated (coughed up) all the way down to the tiniest irritants that are not really interfering with breathing but are still enough to trigger the reflex.

Sometimes, once a cough becomes established, it is as if it just can't find the off button no matter how long it keeps going, even if there is little to nothing to show for it.

The great majority of my personal experience in this area has been in working with people who have chronic coughs. The acute infection that started the process off has long 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 and nearly all of these people have had numerous visits with their GP or with Respiratory specialists and are still not coming right. I mention this because these chronic cases are hard ones but the fact is that I have had an excellent success rate in this area. Not from any special knowledge or ability on my part, rather simply by using some of the old ways of herbs and healing that have been with us for millennia.

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. You can read a lot more about any of these herbs 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 at least some phlegm, i.e. mucus or catarrh being 'expectorated', 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 it rapidly becomes a lot easier to clear their lungs. Eventually, this means the person will need to cough much less but, at least at first, and usually shortly after starting to take this formula, or one like it, is that the person will report that they cough even more than usual, but that the cough is more productive and that it is a lot easier to get it over with.

Productive cough formula

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

The above liquid extracts will 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, therefore it may 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 the above amount 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

The following herbal formula is for those kinds of cases where the coughing is simply not helping, in other words it is a 'non-productive cough'. This can be a very difficult condition for a person to get into. The cough can go on and on for a terrible amount of time and cause much pain, exhaustion and stress.

The action of these herbs will be to gradually, slowly but surely, release spasm and tension from the respiratory system. Note that it is not at all uncommon for the person to initially cough more, even just moments after taking the herbs, but that this quickly passes whereupon they are soon able to breathe more freely and deeply.

Non-Productive cough formula

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. Most people will be able to tolerate the amount recommended here without any trouble but, if the person finds that they are feeling some nausea with the mixture then, rather than reducing the dose, take a few sips of strong Ginger tea at the same time as the 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 the risk, but it can be such a great ally in these situations that I strongly suggest to 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 a day, and so on.

The above mixture, or one like it, 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 an excellent result, in other words a cure, we must be prepared to go deeper in to try to treat the cause and, to move in that direction, we must ask a few vital questions.

Is the environment healthy?

If a person is living in a cold climate or season and especially if they are getting chills to their chest, then they must take action to protect themselves by keeping their homes warm and being smart about protective clothing, for example by using a scarf, an item of clothing that should never be underestimated for its ability to keep the chest warm.

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, especially at night, that are causing an immune reaction, irritation and inflammation, and a subsequent cough. Any damp area may need attention but the bedroom is the single most important place to get clear of mould and damp.

As non-herbal a recommendation as this is, the best way to kill any possible mould lurking in any damp nooks and crannies is to use bleach, and don't be shy of using plenty of it with good ventilation and self-protection. Mould is very hard to kill and nothing works better than bleach. For prevention, if possible, get a dehumidifier to remove the dampness and keep it out.

How much the person is naturally 'cooler or hotter', and at the same time how much they are innately 'dryer or damper', will have a great deal of influence on how they relate to their environment. This important and interesting subject is introduced further in the constitutional medicine section found here

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Is the diet healthy?

A poor diet, especially 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 a person cannot resolve a chronic infection or inflammation in their 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, if it needs further exploration, read here

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Do the lungs need cleaning?

We naturally associate coughing with infection, but it is not widely known that there are many types of microbial life that normally live in the lungs that we are perfectly adapted to having inside us all the time.

Not only is it normal to have different kinds of microbes in the respiratory system, it is also perfectly normal and healthy to have plenty of mucus lining the tissues and this material, along with debris that comes in through the air, along with waste products that we produce simply by breathing, leads to us needing a process that enables us to continually clean our lungs, one that doesn't need coughing.

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, or excess debris from the environment, or an excess accumulation of waste products in the tissues, can trigger a coughing reflex that, in effect, is there to simply speed up the normal self-cleaning of the lungs.

With an understanding that it is this fundamental need for 'cleansing' that is so often the key driver behind a chronic cough, it makes sense to support the system to more easily do what it is struggling to achieve and, with this intention, one of the best methods are 'steam-inhalations'.

For a bad case, I will recommend using a combination of Chamomile & Olbas oil, but for milder cases a simple method that only uses the Olbas can be all that is needed. Likewise, the worse the condition, the more the steam inhalations should be used, it is not a treatment that can be overdone. Both methods, and the whole process in general is written up in 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, 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 this practitioner has seen working in this important area is written up here

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Does the immune system need support?

Whether there are any issues that need to be worked on in the environment, the diet, or from stress, many people with chronic coughs will need to support their immune systems to become well. The more they can treat any causes for a weakened immunity, the less treatment they will need, but it is often a core part of the initial treatment program.

I especially rate the herbs Echinacea & Astragalus root to support immune health. I also use a lot of Hawthorn & Reishi mushroom in a combined capsule for immunity. Vitamin D can be a game-changer and sometimes simple Garlic is the natural antibiotic for an infection that has proven resistant to everything in pharmaceutical medicine...

Those are a few reliable allies in this area, for more 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