I learnt the hard way, that the cough that I am suffering from now, could not have come from my friend or partner. The common cough, contrary to the belief we hold, is not contagious. That means there is no pathogen, microorganism like bacteria, virus or a fungus that causes the disease. Sometimes, especially in children a cough can continue for a week or so after an attack of viral flu.
Normal dry cough of the elderly is a reflex action, an action that the body performs, which is beyond our control. It is an automatic reaction by some of our muscles to clear the airways into our lungs by ejecting mucus or any other obstructions. It can also be due to unhealthy environmental conditions such as unsuitable temperature, humidity or air-pollution.
The recommended humidity for healthy living is between 30% and 50%. Whilst the comfortable temperature is around 20 degrees Celsius. Relative humidity gives the percentage of moisture present in the air relative to the maximum moisture that could hold according to the physical conditions at the time.
It was our custom to heat the bedroom, using an oil heater to warm the bedroom prior to sleep, during the chilly nights of winter. We continued this practice even at the dawn of spring. My sleep got disturbed from time to time due to a cough. As the days passed coughing sessions became long and more frequent. Just after midnight one day I had a miserable time due to a continuous dry coughing session. I drank some warm water and switched off the oil heater and turned on to a heat pump. Then only I could sleep until the sun peeped in.
An increase in temperature in a room reduces the relative humidity. It is recommended to use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Among Sri Lankans it is customary to avoid moisture when there is a cough or flu. According to modern advice one has to get exposed to moisture in order to keep the nasal passage and throat moist. They even recommend being in the bathroom for some time, with the shower running.
I also made this an opportunity to test a few “goda wedakamas’. One day I got up just after midnight and started coughing loud, shattering the silence of the night. My wife gave me some squeezed lime and honey in a spoon. I gulped it down and sipped some warm water. This gave me some temporary relief.
The next night, before I went to sleep I prepared the bees honey and lime concoction into a small cup and kept it ready to take if the problem cropped up. Just as I awakened in the early hours of the morning, the coughing started. I soon got up and took a few sips of the medicine. It was as if I got an electric shock. My mouth gaped open, nasal fluids poured and the tears rolled down. My wife was about to seek external help. Immediately I drank some water. As the warm water washed down the bitterness, I slowly recovered.
Another cause for dry cough among elders is the shortage of fluids in the body. Drinking coriander is beneficial as it increases the fluids in the body.
For a sound sleep at night, undisturbed by coughing, sleeping posture also matters. All these years I was very comfortable with the fetal posture, which was sleeping sideways. A few nights it was awful for me. We even changed the bed linen thinking there were allergens. Two changes I made worked well. Raising the head a little more and sleeping on my back. This is supposed to be the best according to the experts.
For a coughing free comfortable sleep go to bed when the room air is around 20° C. and the relative humidity is less than 50%, after taking a glassful of warm water, Good night.
By Upali Salpadoru – Wellington