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When you’re healthy, the cilia in your airways move mucus toward your throat to either be coughed up or swallowed. But with a respiratory tract infection (like the common cold), mucus can build up in your airways and lungs, so your body has to cough to get rid of it.
Cilia are tiny hairs that cover the cells on top of the mucus membranes in your airways. These tiny hairs transport mucus and the particles that they’ve trapped toward your throat.
The mucus and trapped particles either get coughed up or swallowed without you even noticing. But when that process doesn’t work, excess mucus may accumulate in your airways and you may start to cough more.
Cough (or irritant) receptors are scattered throughout your airways. When they get stimulated (by irritants like dust or allergens, or triggered by an accumulation of excess mucus), they send a signal to the cough center in the brain.
Your brain processes this information and then tells certain respiratory muscles to rapidly contract, which results in a cough.
Coughing drives fast-moving air from the lungs, which causes your airways to vibrate. This vibration loosens the mucus that’s stuck to the mucus membranes in your airways. Coughing propels this mucus upwards and out of your airway.
While you have the power to control your cough (for example, when you cough on purpose), an involuntary cough has reflexive power–meaning it will happen even when you don’t want it to, like when you’re sick with a respiratory tract infection.
You may have heard the term “productive cough” or “wet cough.” A cough is productive (or wet) when you’re able to bring up mucus.
The speed of the air travelling through the airways and the thickness of the mucus determine how effective your coughing is.
You’ve probably heard of an unproductive cough, too. This is more commonly known as a “dry cough.” This is when you’re unable to bring up any mucus. In some cases, an unproductive cough is a result of irritated airways that haven’t produced excess mucus.
Thinning the mucus that is trapped in your airways is one way to deal with your cough.
There are simple things you can do to help thin your mucus; most solutions can be found around your house:
You can also help soothe an overworked throat by sucking on a hard candy.
Thinner mucus is easier to cough up and out of your airway. Certain Mucinex® products contain guaifenesin, an expectorant, which helps to thin and loosen the mucus in your airways and make your coughs more “productive.”
Some Mucinex® products also use the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, an antitussive, which helps you cough less. While coughing is good (it helps get excess mucus out of your airways), sometimes you need a break. For example, dextromethorphan can be used at nighttime when you need to quiet your cough and get some sleep.
The medicine dextromethorphan carries risks if abused. If you’re a parent, learn more about medicine abuse and how to combat it.
Use as directed.
See below for products that will help your cough. Use as directed.
Also check out the Find My Mucinex tool. You can enter other symptoms you're suffering from and find the best Mucinex® match.