Living with
Cough & Congestion

Chest congestion is related with the feeling of tightness or congestion in the chest that is usually due to accumulation of mucus and the fluid in the lower part of the respiratory tract.

The action your body takes to get rid of substances, like excess mucus, that are irritating to your air passages is through coughing. The air passages carry the air you breathe in from the nose and mouth to the lungs.

Both chest congestion and cough can be caused by certain allergies and respiratory infections. In a lot of cases, treatment at home is sufficient for these conditions, but in the case of infection, antibiotics are required.

Types of Cough

A cough is a chain reaction by the cells in your respiratory tract to expel air to rid the airways of irritants.

There are different kinds of cough with different causes. While an occasional cough that does not last is usually nothing to worry about and quite normal, a cough that lasts a long time should be taken more seriously.

  1. Acute cough often caused by the following for example:
  • Irritants like cigarette smoke
  • The flu or a cold
  • Lower respiratory tract infections like pneumonia
  • Whooping cough2. Chronic cough (a cough that lasts eight weeks or longer in adults, or four weeks or longer in children) as caused by:
  • Sinusitis with nasal congestion and excess mucus production causing “postnasal drip” syndrome
  • Allergies like hay fever or asthma
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Blood pressure medications called ACE-inhibitors
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
  • Lung cancer
  • Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB)
  • Less common causes include: congestive heart failure, disorders of the pericardium (lining of the heart), bronchogenic carcinoma (cancer of the airways), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis and psychogenic disorders.

What treatments are needed for coughs?

The type of treatment you need for your cough depends on the type of cough and its cause.

See below for a list of common cough types and their commonly suggested courses of treatment.

Remember, never use cough medication for children under two years old without speaking to your doctor first.


Cough with a runny nose:

  • This may be caused by mucus running down the back of the throat.
  • Treated with a decongestant and mucolytic to break down the mucus, available as over-the-counter cold medications.
  • Do not use for children under two years old before talking to your doctor.

Cough related to an allergy:

  • Avoid whatever allergen is causing the reaction.
  • Often caused by dust or allergies to pets.
  • Take antihistamines, decongestants and mucolytics as suggested.

Dry, tickling cough:

  • This is usually caused by a throat irritation.
  • Sometimes helped by sucking on cough lozenges or hard candy.
  • Do not give hard candy or throat lozenges to children under four years old (Unless specifically indicated for children – such as lollies). 

Habit cough (psychogenic cough):

  • Often described as a barking or honking cough.
  • It has no physical cause.
  • Habit cough can be caused by nervousness or other emotional problems. For example, a child might cough to get their parents’ attention.
  • Many people cannot stop themselves from coughing. They need to see a doctor for help.

Short, dry, wheezing cough:

  • Heard in asthma, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
  • See your doctor immediately for treatment with inhalers (to open the airways), antibiotics (for an infection) and antipyretics (for fever).

Loose, wet cough that brings up mucus:

  • Usually caused by an upper respiratory infection, a cold or sinus infection.
  • Caused by mucus dripping down the back of the child’s throat. Child may also vomit mucus.
  • See your doctor immediately for treatment with mucolytics (to break down mucus), antibiotics and antipyretics.


  • This is a cough typical in young children often occurring at night after the child has been sleeping, although it can occur during the day too.
  • The child may have trouble breathing.
  • This condition is typified by a continuous cough that sounds like a barking seal.
  • Croup can usually be managed at home; however, it is recommended you improve the air quality in your child’s room with steam, such as from a humidifier. It is also very important that you ensure that your child remains well hydrated and rested. Speak to your healthcare provider about using medications like paracetamol to manage body temperature.

Remember that no cough medicine should be taken for longer than three weeks. Call your doctor if the cough has not gone away by this time.

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