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‘Avoid spicy foods’: When it comes to coughs, can you tell myth from fact?

We spoke to Dr Phil Kieran to bust the myths and cement the facts.

Image: Shutterstock/Pixel-Shot

IF YOU HAVE a painful or irritating cough, it’s likely you’ll do as much as possible to relieve and treat it. 

But with many old wives’ tales about tackling a cough, it can be hard to tell myth from fact. 

To bust the myths and cement the facts, we spoke to Cork GP Dr Phil Kieran. We gave Dr Kieran five statements about coughs, and he told us whether each one was a myth or a fact and why. We’ve also included a slider poll for each statement so you can share how likely you’d be to believe each statement, and then see how your answer matches up with everyone else’s. 

As well as sharing his advice for relieving a cough, here’s what Dr Kieran had to say…

#1 ‘Applying a vapor rub to the soles of your feet will help ease a cough.’ 

Myth or fact?

How likely are you to believe the above statement, with 1 being not at all and 10 being completely?

6

Answer: Myth

You might have memories of the soles of your feet being slathered in vapor rub by your mam as a child whenever you had a cough but, according to Dr Kieran, this doesn’t help to ease a cough. 

“Applying vapor rub to your feet will give you a cooling sensation on your feet, but not much else,” he says, adding that vapor rubs are typically designed to be applied to the chest “so that the menthol will get to your nose.”

#2 ‘There’s only one way to treat a cough.’

Myth or fact?

How likely are you to believe the above statement, with 1 being not at all and 10 being completely?

6

 Answer: Myth 

As there are two types of cough – dry and wet – how you treat your cough depends on which type you have. If the cough is wet and therefore likely caused by an infection, visiting your GP is recommended.

If it’s dry, a simple solution like having a teaspoon of honey can be effective. “For most coughs your body will work to resolve the problem by itself,” says Dr Kieran. “However, taking some substances can help relieve the sensation of needing to cough.”

A spoonful of honey can provide some relief, or you can find an over-the-counter remedy that’s right for you.

#3 ‘Sleeping with your head and neck elevated can help you stop coughing at night.’

Myth or fact?

How likely are you to believe the above statement, with 1 being not at all and 10 being completely?

6

Answer: Fact

If you’ve ever struggled to sleep at night because of a cough irritating your throat, you’ll likely have tried to find a sleeping position that causes the least irritation. According to Dr Kieran, the key may be sleeping with your head elevated.

“A lot of coughs are caused by a drip of mucus from your nasal cavity onto the top of your throat,” he says. “In this case your cough will often become worse at night when you lie flat, allowing the mucus to drip more freely. Slightly elevating your head may allow the mucus to flow down the side of your throat to be swallowed without causing irritation.”

#4 ‘Not wearing a scarf or covering your neck/chest on a cold day means you’ll develop a cough.’

Myth or fact?

How likely are you to believe the above statement, with 1 being not at all and 10 being completely?

6

 Answer: Myth

Leaving the house without enough layers on can often bring the worry that you might become ill as a result. However, you needn’t worry about developing a cough if you forget to wear a scarf or bundle up, says Dr Kieran. 

“A cough is caused by infective agents, live viruses (in the vast majority of cases) or, less frequently, bacteria. Not covering up your head, neck or chest, or being caught out in the rain, will not make you sick.”

#5  ‘Certain foods/drinks can irritate a cough.’ 

Myth or fact?

How likely are you to believe the above statement, with 1 being not at all and 10 being completely?

6

 Answer: Fact  

Struggling with a cough might leave you wanting to eat your favourite comfort foods, but if that includes fast food or fried food, you might want to think again, says Dr Kieran.

“Foods that increase acid production in your stomach or delay its emptying can make a cough worse,” he explains. “This mostly includes high fat foods or oily foods. On top of that, very spicy foods can cause your nose to run which also can trigger a cough.”

Battling a cough? Always ask your pharmacist for advice.

Relieve any type of cough with Bronchostop Cough Syrup or Berry Flavour Cough Pastilles. 

Buttercup Bronchostop Cough Syrup and Berry Flavour Cough Pastilles contain thyme herb extract. These are traditional herbal medicinal products used for the relief of coughs associated with a cold, such as chesty, dry, tickly, irritating coughs and catarrh, exclusively based upon long-standing use. Always read the leaflet.

For more information about coughs, visit bronchostop.ie.

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