How to Deal with a Horrible Cough


Do you ever get one of those colds where you have a horrible cough? By “horrible” I mean one of those coughs where you cough so much you’re sick of the sound of yourself coughing, where you have coughing fits that are so intense and go on for so long that you kind of cry and almost throw up, and where you’re so very tired but can’t sleep because all you do is cough.

I’ve had one of those coughs all weekend. On Thursday, I felt bad enough to skip my workout, which is insane because Thursday is weights day and I love weights day. On Friday, I felt bad enough to stay home from work but not too bad to run 6.25 miles, so I thought things were looking up. They were not. Friday evening — oh, it always gets worse in the evening — ended with me sitting in the kitchen, crying, saying “Make it stop!” as I coughed and coughed and coughed so hard the pain in my chest was almost unbearable and my ribs hurt. Aside from the coughing, this cold has that thing going on where your body doesn’t ache but it hurts for anything to touch your skin and it feels like there’s a very nervous little animal stuck somewhere between your throat and your chest.

To try to salvage something constructive from the great sickness of 2012, I’ve assembled my cough-dealing techniques, which I will share with you now. Here you go:

  • Take a hot shower. This helps so much. I’d have stayed in there all night yesterday if our water heater could’ve handled it, even though that might have qualified as using more than I need.
  • Drink. I understand that you’re supposed to consume fluids when you’re sick, so I’m sure everybody knows this. Aside from keeping you hydrated, drinking actually feels kind of good. When drinking water in particular, try to take more than one swallow at a time (during prime coughing time, I found this kind of hard to do). I’m sure no medical professionals would recommend this, but beer feels so very good on an agitated throat, and getting a little buzzed is never going to hurt.
  • Eat. Eating feels good and reduces coughing. The best food to eat is spicy Thai food. The next best thing is spicy food of any kind. Vegetables are good. Dairy, melted cheese in particular, is not, the exception being any type of pizza that includes jalapenos.
  • Lozenges/cough drops, but only when you really need them.
  • Crying and/or short shallow breaths. While crying, I discovered that crying made the coughing stop. When I realized that, I tried to cry for as long as possible, which ended up being a kind of weird but not altogether unpleasant experience (no more unpleasant than crying in the first place, that’s for sure). (I’m not even sure I’m making sense. Forgive me. I’m ill.) Even when not crying, I found that taking little, fast, shallow breaths helped.
  • Lively distractions that don’t require action — for example, your child or your dog doing something crazy while someone else is there to deal with it.
  • Remaining reasonably still as much as possible. If you don’t really have to get up, don’t get up.
  • Evening snacks. Because coughs are worse in the evening and eating is good, an evening snack is an awesome idea. Popcorn is ideal, especially when someone makes it for you while you sit on the couch trying to remain reasonably still as much as possible.
  • Sleep. I know, right? Not gonna happen. Well, it can, in small increments, if you know what you’re doing. Here’s how to sleep while you have a terrible cough. Pile pillows on your bed such that you can lean back on them while sitting up (a slightly reclined position is okay — just make sure your head and chest are elevated). Read something boring, like an article about golf, until you can barely hold your eyes open for another second. Insert a lozenge in your mouth. Turn off the lights. Remain in an almost-sitting-up position on your pile of pillows. This is not comfortable but it’s your only hope of getting a some sleep instead of coughing like hell all night long. You’ll wake up 100 times and in the morning you’ll probably have a headache and a kinked-up neck, but it sure beats coughing nonstop all night long.

Hope this helps! Time for a hot shower!