Who has been coughing for weeks or even months? There is a nasty, lingering cough that is doing the rounds affecting babies, children and adults dubbed the “100-day cough”. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection that can lead to a horrible long-lasting and painful cough. Sadly, there are no known medical treatments that can help to reduce symptoms or duration of whooping cough. However, here are some home remedies helping to keep you and your children more comfortable, until the whooping cough runs its course.
What is whooping cough?
We do not know the current worldwide whooping cough figures, but in 2014, it was estimated that there were 24.1 million pertussis cases and 160,700 deaths from pertussis in children under 5 years of age. It is thought that the world experiences pertussis epidemics every two to five years.
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It’s particularly nasty as it can cause violent and rapid coughing fits, which can be hard to control and can take a physical toll on the body.
Pertussis typically begins like a mild upper respiratory infection with a runny nose, mild fever and mild cough. Within a week or two, the cough increases in frequency and severity, before gradually subsiding over a period of several weeks or longer. Pertussis presents as severe coughing spells that can end in a “whooping” sound when you breathe in. The constant coughing can lead to sore ribs, a hernia, a middle ear infection and even urinary incontinence when you cough. The cough can last for several weeks or months and is often worse at night.
Most people are immunised against whooping cough as part of their routine baby jabs and topped up as a preteen and/or as an adult with a booster vaccination. It is included the 4-in-1 vaccine, also known as the DTaP/IPV or dTaP/IPV vaccine (covering diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio). However, this does not provide 100% protection and you can still get whooping cough even if you have been vaccinated. However, it should in theory be milder if you are immunised.
Since there are several viral and bacterial infections that can cause a severe cough, it is best not to guess, and it is important to get things checked by your medical doctor. They can diagnose whooping cough through several tests including a swab from the back of the throat or blood samples. Even though antibiotics are the first-line of treatment, these are primarily intended to reduce the spread of whooping cough. In fact, antibiotics (and equally other treatments like antihistamines and asthma medications) have not been found to have much effect on the clinical symptoms such as the severity of the cough or how long the cough lasts.
The role of natural remedies in managing whooping cough
Ingredients like thyme, ginger, honey and garlic are known for their anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, making them beneficial in soothing the symptoms of whooping cough. In addition to these, a diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants can bolster the immune system, aiding a more efficient recovery.
- Thyme – English botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper described thyme as a ‘noble strengthener of the lungs’. It contains thymol and other essential oils that are thought to have antimicrobial and expectorant properties, which might help in loosening mucus and easing coughs. Thyme can be used in cooking by flavouring chicken, duck, liver, eggs and potatoes or added to pesto.
- Ginger – there is evidence that ginger can help with a wide variety of children’s upper respiratory tract infections including whooping cough. Ginger root can be steeped in boiling water with some lemon and honey or added into a freshly made juice such as a ginger and apple “shot”.
- Honey – very soothing on a sore throat and chest and is a great home remedy for coughs. Jarrah honey is our favourite as it is rich in antioxidants and tastes of toffee. You can spread it on toast or eat it directly off a spoon!
- Garlic – this is a traditional remedy for coughs; eating plenty of garlic can help with overall immunity due to its antibacterial properties. Make garlicky pesto, bolognaise and tomato sauces.
- Vitamin D – it is important to have this topped up especially during the winter months to help support overall immunity, and a vitamin D supplement is recommended for everyone in the UK from October to March.
There is a subset of people who are more genetically susceptible to contracting whooping cough due to a genetic variant called VDR (Vitamin D Receptor). Every cell in our body has a vitamin D receptor – imagine this as the socket that grabs vitamin D for our cells; it then works its magic for our immune system. Anyone with a variant on their VDR means that they will need to work harder to keep their vitamin D levels at a decent level, which might mean spending more time in the sun or taking slightly higher doses of vitamin D. It is important to monitor vitamin D levels when taking higher doses.
- Vitamin C – a well-known traditional home remedy for coughs and there is some evidence it can specifically help whooping cough. Include foods such as oranges, lemons, cherries, pineapple and parsley and top up with a food supplement if needed.
- Quercetin – this antioxidant helps to repair acute and chronic lung damage and is my go-to for tickly coughs. Quercetin reduces inflammation markers such as IL-6, and it is thought that the higher the IL-6 the worse the lung function. Quercetin is found in apples, red onions and red peppers as well as food supplements.
Whooping cough is more than just a long-lasting cough; it’s an infection that can significantly affect one’s daily life and well-being. Nutritional interventions may be a pathway to help manage symptoms more effectively. Try as many of my tips as you can and I really hope they help. If you feel you need further support please get in touch with our clinical team for a 1 to 1 consultation.
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