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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

 It’s estimated that around 12% of people in the UK are living in discomfort with a chronic cough that they have had for longer than 8 weeks. The cough is designed to remove harmful particles from the body, but when our own defences are unable to resolve things and the problem continues, it may be time to get things checked out.

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Chronic cough, bronchitis and COPD

An essential defence mechanism, the cough is designed to remove harmful particles from the body. But when our own defences are unable to resolve things and the problem continues, it may be time to get things checked out.

The inhalation of harmful irritants causes the lungs to produce excessive amounts of mucus, in order to trap inhaled particles. The lungs then trigger a cough reflex to move the mucus out of the lungs. When this process goes on for a long period of time, it causes constant irritation and inflammation in the lining of the lungs, which is characteristic of chronic bronchitis, a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Many people do not actually realise that they have COPD. Some of the signs that your body is struggling to fight off an attack due to chronic bronchitis could be wheezing, difficulty breathing, sore throats, chest pain/discomfort that may be accompanied a low fever.

If COPD is left untreated, bacteria or viruses can build up behind the mucus and cause infection. This could develop into pneumonia, which can be very serious. Permanent damage can also be caused through thickening and scarring of the lung walls.

Conventional treatment

With many viruses becoming resistant against antibiotic drugs, researchers have been trying for some time to find a solution to resistant pathogens and there are currently still no effective preventative pharmaceutical medications for the treatment of COPD.


The Lancet, the most prestigious and well-known medical journal, published an article in 2016, highlighting the importance for more dynamic and holistic strategies in the management of COPD.

‘Health-care providers must realise that human beings are composed of, and operate within, multiple interacting and self-adjusting systems, and that illnesses arise from dynamic interaction within and between these systems. In this recognition, health can be re-established through a holistic approach that builds on subtle emergent forces within the overall system.’

The article acknowledges that the way a person can best control their wellbeing is by looking at a combination of physical, emotional and social aspects which may be affecting their health.

Holistic assessment

Indeed, there are a great number of contributing factors which may affect the overall performance of the respiratory system. As a holistic practitioner, I understand that adapting treatment to suit the needs of the individual is a highly appropriate solution in the management of COPD.

To start with, we should identify where the sources of harmful irritants are coming from. Cigarette smoking is an obvious one, but there are damaging chemicals all around us in daily items such as perfumes, nail polishes, deodorants, cleaning fluids or aerosols. We can reduce the burden on our respiratory system by replacing many objects in our environment with less toxic versions, as well as reducing the amount of mucus producing foods we consume, such as dairy and bananas.

A genetic susceptibility has now been identified as a contributing factor in the development of COPD. While we cannot change a person’s DNA, herbal medicine can work extremely well to preserve respiratory health in a preventative way where there is vulnerability, or a person is at increased risk of developing COPD.

Holistic treatment

A wide range of herbs have medicinal actions which can be remarkably useful for respiratory conditions such as COPD. Here are a couple of plants which I find particularly helpful.

Elecampane (Inula helenium) is a warming decongestant and expectorant, used to aid in the effective elimination of mucus. A respiratory antiseptic, Elecampane is traditionally used for respiratory diseases.

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is a restricted herb available to qualified herbalists, which has a broad spectrum of effects on the respiratory system including bronchodilator activity (corticosteroids and asthma inhalers work this way). It’s ability to reduce constriction in the lungs makes it helpful in the management of COPD and it can also be used as a smoking cessation aid as it has been found to reduce nicotine cravings.

Different herbs are usually combined in treatment to include a variety of actions tailored to the individual and a formulation for COPD would likely include other supporting herbs.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), one of many immune-enhancing herbs, can be utilised where immunity has been compromised.

Berberine is an antimicrobial compound, which is stored by certain plants in order to respond to fungi, viruses and bacteria. Large doses have been successfully used against MRSA and present a possible solution to the growing antibiotic resistance.

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) soothes sore throats and relieves inflammation of the airways, having a natural steroid action similar to cortisone but without the side effects associated.

The lungs and heart work in rhythm with each other and so support for the heart and circulation is often required with herbs to help improve blood flow.

Please note: The use of herbal medicine is extremely complex, and while people often believe that it may be used freely without side-effects, this is not the case. It is important to seek the guidance of a qualified herbalist, who will be able to prescribe herbal medicine for you in a safe and effective way.

A holistic approach, treating the whole person with herbal medicine, nutrition and lifestyle changes can provide most effective in the management of COPD.

Respiratory disease now affects one in five people in England, with COPD, pneumonia and lung cancer the biggest causes of death. The NHS are now recommending personalised care with an emphasis on early diagnosis and prevention. Time to get that cough checked!


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