Bad news: That annoying cough isn't going away any time soon, according to a review of research published in the Annals of Family Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Georgia analyzed the results of 19 studies on acute coughs (i.e. acute bronchitis or the common cold) and found quite a discrepancy between when you think symptoms fade (7 to 9 days), and when they actually fade: 17.8 days. (Do you have a cold--or is it the flu? Check out the Men's Health Symptom Solver to find out.)
But you're only going to be hacking for that long if you have a chest cold, not a head cold, which lasts 7 to 10 days. The difference? A chest cold originates--well--in your chest, meaning you don't see as many nasal symptoms like a stuffy nose and clogged sinuses, says study author Mark Ebell, M.D., M.S., professor at the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia.
The bad news: An acute cough is usually caused by a virus (which antibiotics have little or no effect on), and nothing will kill it faster, says Dr. Ebell. In many cases, your body's response to the virus--inflammation--is what's making you cough. So until it runs its course, you just have to wait it out. (Cure your boredom with the 10 Best Series On Netflix Right Now.)
Dr. Ebell says to call your doc if you have asthma, are short of breath, cough up blood, have symptoms for more than 3 weeks, or feel too sick to function--but if it's just the nagging cough, here are three ways to make the waiting game a little less painful.
Go with Aleve
When faced with the daunting task of the medicine aisle, stick with Aleve. Studies have shown that it doesn't just help with fevers and body aches (which sometimes accompany a coughing illness), but it may also reduce the cough itself, says Dr. Ebell. Researchers speculate it's the drug's anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce inflammation, and thus the secretion causing your cough.
Beware of DM
Antihistamines, drugs used for everything from the common cold to allergies, will suppress your cough, too. But beware of the popular guy, dextromethorphan (DM)--you'd know it from titles like Robitussin DM. "While DM has always been recommended for a cough, it is not well studied," Dr. Ebell says. In fact, a study in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found it to have little difference on symptoms. Your move: At bedtime, choose a med like Benadryl and look for two main ingredients: diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine, which may be more effective than DM and have the added benefit of making you drowsy enough to hopefully sleep through your cough.
A tablespoon of honey may shut your cough up. When kids with coughs were given honey before bed, their cough symptoms subsided more than those who didn't use honey, according to research at Tel Aviv University. What's the secret ingredient? Researchers aren't sure--it could be everything from the antioxidants in the syrup to the thick, sweet texture and taste. And hit up the produce aisle, too: These five fruits can boost your immunity.
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