Coughing is a common reaction to the respiratory system trying to expel harmful microbes, dust or irritants from the body. It’s a natural reflex that protects your lungs, but as you know, it can be extremely irritating, obnoxious and even painful. Coughing can also keep you up at night and impact your quality of life until it finally goes away.
It’s no wonder a cough is one of the most common reasons why people seek medical attention. And when there’s no effective cure in sight, people often turn to natural home remedies for cough that don’t make it necessary to turn to medications or over-the-counter cough syrups.
Unfortunately, most cough syrups and cough drops on the market provide little relief and don’t help to treat the cause of the problem. Using home remedies for cough that actually deal with the cause of the symptom is key, and that’s why I use foods, supplements and essential oils for coughs, which all help to fight infections, thin mucus and boost your immune system. (1)
What Causes Coughing?
Coughing is a natural reflex that helps to clear your airways of irritants like mucus, smoke or other particles. As these substances accumulate in the airways, this reflexive action tries to facilitate unobstructed breathing. It’s actually a defense mechanism that’s used by the body to protect the lungs from infections and inflammation. Common irritants that cause a cough include:
Sometimes, a medical condition or certain medicines, like ACE inhibitors that are used for high blood pressure and beta-blockers, can irritate the nerve endings in your airways, causing a cough.
When your cough lasts for less than three weeks, it’s considered an acute cough, which is commonly caused by respiratory infections like the common cold, sinusitis or pneumonia. Sometimes, a cough will linger when the infection has already cleared up, which is called a subacute cough. Usually, a subacute cough will last less than eight weeks and your body is just dealing with the leftover phlegm and inflammation.
A chronic cough lasts more than eight weeks and it’s usually caused by an underlying medical condition that’s making the symptom to persist. Some conditions that can lead to a chronic cough include:
- postnasal drip from sinus infections
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- pulmonary fibrosis
Sometimes, although this occurs less often, a chronic cough can be caused by a lung infection, lung cancer, a lung disease, heart failure and even psychological disorders. (2)
Have you ever wondered what happens during a cough? Although it occurs in only an instant, there are actually several steps taking place within your respiratory system that causes a cough. It begins with a gasp of air, and then your glottis (the opening between your vocal cords) quickly shuts and covers your windpipe. Next, your muscles in your chest cage, diaphragm and abdomen begin to contract as they try to move air from the lungs to the nose. You’ll feel a buildup of pressure at this point, since the air has nowhere to go, and once the glottis opens again, the air rushes out and causes that notorious coughing sound. (3)
Sometimes, you prompt your body to cough as you try to expel mucus or particles from your airways. And other times a cough is completely involuntary and happens as a natural reflex to foreign objects or irritants.
Dry Cough vs. Wet Cough
Maybe you’ve noticed that depending on the cause, coughs can feel and sound completely different. You can have a dry, hacking cough or a wet cough that comes with fluid secretion and lots of mucus. Here’s a rundown of the differences between a dry cough vs. a wet dough:
- Dry cough: A dry cough is when you are coughing, but there’s no mucus or phlegm in your airways. You may have an itchy sensation in your throat that’s causing you to cough. This is usually caused by a respiratory infection, like a cold or the flu, asthma (especially in children) or exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritants. Whooping cough is also typically a dry cough that involves deep and fast coughing fits. When you have a dry cough, it tends to get worse in middle of the night when you’re in bed, early in the morning or when you are in a dry, warm room. (4)
- Wet cough: A wet cough occurs when you have a buildup of mucus and fluid secretions in your windpipe and lungs. You are coughing to expel the fluids from your body. Your body is producing this phlegm because it’s having an inflammatory response, usually responding to an infection. The constant buildup of mucus, even when you’ve already coughed up what seems to be a tremendous amount, can be really frustrating and uncomfortable. (5)
7 Best Home Remedies for Cough
1. Immune-Boosting Foods
When you can’t seem to get rid of a cough, there are a few foods that can help to thin mucus, soothe your muscles, reduce inflammation and boost your immune system. Here’s a quick rundown of the foods that serve as home remedies for a cough:
- Water: Start by drinking plenty of water throughout the day — about 8 to 16 ounces every 2 hours. This will help to thin the mucus that’s building up in your airways and causing you to cough.
- Bone broth: Sipping on real bone broth can help to support your immunity, thin mucus in your airways, soothe your muscles and promote detoxification. When your cough is caused by exposure to toxins, chemicals, pesticides or artificial ingredients that are causing an inflammatory reaction, consuming bone broth can be helpful in removing those substances from your body.
- Raw garlic: Allicin, a compound found in garlic, is known for its ability to kill the microorganisms that are responsible respiratory infections that can lead to coughing. Raw garlic has antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties, so adding it to your diet as a natural cough remedy can be beneficial in helping you to kick the infection.
- Ginger tea: Drinking ginger tea when you have a cough can help to boost your immune system and fight the infection that’s causing the symptom. Ginger root benefits come from its powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, which makes it a go-to when dealing with respiratory tract infections.
- Probiotic foods: One possible side effect of not having enough probiotics is frequent colds and coughs, which is because probiotics are responsible for supporting your immune system. To fight your cough, try eating probiotic foods like cultured vegetables, like sauerkraut and kimchi, coconut kefir, apple cider vinegar, miso and kombucha.
In an effort to reduce inflammation and mucus production, avoid consuming sweetened beverages, fruit juices, sugary foods, chocolate, processed foods and conventional dairy products when you have a cough. Instead of drinking juice or sweetened drinks, choose whole fruits and vegetables instead, which are much higher in vitamin C and will help to boost your immune function. (6)
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C can be used as a home remedy for cough because it supports your immune system and boosts your white blood cells. Research conducted in Norway indicates that vitamin C, which serves as an important antioxidant, may help to reduce cough and wheezing in smokers who have high levels of oxidative stress. (7)
And a 2017 review published in Nutrients found that vitamin C may help to alleviate or prevent infections that are caused by bacteria and viruses. It can shorten the duration of colds and may even be used as a natural remedy for pneumonia. (8)
To support your immune system and relieve your cough, take 1,000 milligrams 3–4 times daily as soon as symptoms develop.
3. Zinc Lozenges
Zinc is commonly used as an over-the-counter remedy for fighting symptoms of the common cold, including coughing. According to research published in the Journal of American Pharmacists Association, zinc can reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms when administered within 24 hours of their onset. It was also suggested in this scientific overview of zinc efficacy that it may exert an antiviral effect and interfere with the molecular process that causes the buildup of mucus and bacteria in your nasal passages. (9)
One of the easiest ways to take advantage of these zinc benefits is to use zinc lozenges throughout the day. Studies suggest that zinc lozenges containing at least 13 milligrams of elemental zinc can be used every 2 hours when cold and cough symptoms first appear. (10)
Research shows that honey has antimicrobial effects and it may be beneficial for treating a cough and cold. Honey works to relieve irritation, reduce inflammation and increase cytokine release. It also provides immune-boosting antioxidants. (11)
You can use raw honey or manuka honey to relieve conditions that cause a cough, like viral and bacterial infections, and allergies. Honey also helps to improve sleep, so it can be useful when you’re having trouble getting the rest you need because of your cough. Take 1–2 tablespoons of raw or manuka honey a day until your symptoms go away. You can also add honey to lemon or chamomile tea, but wait until the water is warm enough to drink before you add the honey.
Another option is to make my homemade honey herbal cough drops that combine herbs for coughs with honey to create a completely natural remedy for cough.
5. Essential Oils
Essential oils work as great home remedies for cough because many of them contain antibacterial and antiviral compounds. Plus, some oils can help to loosen your mucus, relax the muscles of your respiratory system and allow more oxygen to reach your lungs. Some of the best essential oils for cough are eucalyptus, peppermint and lemon. (12)
Eucalyptus oil contains cineole, which has antiseptic properties. It also works as an expectorant, which helps to loosen your mucus so that it can be expelled more easily. If you are coughing so much that you can’t catch your breath, applying eucalyptus oil can help to dilate your blood vessels and allow more oxygen to get into your lungs — making it easier to breathe.
To use eucalyptus oil for your cough, diffuse 4 drops to 5 drops at home, especially right before bed, or apply 2 drops topically to your chest and back of neck. You can also use eucalyptus and peppermint oil to make a completely natural homemade vapor rub that will help to relieve your cough.
Peppermint oil has a cooling effect, which can help to unclog your nasal passages. It can also be used to relieve a scratchy throat that’s common when you have a dry cough. You can diffuse 5 drops at home or apply 2–3 drops topically to your chest, temples and back of neck. It’s safe to use peppermint oil alone or you can combine it with equal parts carrier oil to cover a bigger surface area of your skin.
Lemon essential oil is great for promoting detoxification, helping to cleanse your body of the toxins that are making you cough. It also has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, so it can be used to cleanse your home and fight infections. You can diffuse lemon oil, combine it with coconut oil and apply it topically to your neck, or use it to make your own homemade cough syrup, which is made with a combination of essential oils (like frankincense and peppermint) and honey.
6. Massage and Percussion
When you’re looking for medication-free home remedies for cough, consider getting a massage. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine indicates that massage therapy has a significant positive effect on children who suffer from a cough due to asthma. Massage also appears to greatly improve pulmonary function, helping to open up the your airways, and get air to and from your lungs. (13)
Massage therapy benefits your health because it involves the manual manipulation of your soft body tissue and muscular tissue. This helps to improve the function of your lymphatic system and boosts your immunity.
Another option is percussion, which is one of the best home remedies for cough when you are taking care of a child. You can do it to a loved one or child at home or have it done by a physical therapist. Percussion involves clapping the chest wall over the part of the lung that needs to be drained of mucus. Simply cup your hand so that it curves to the chest wall and clap with a forceful, steady beat.
The vibration of your clap will help to loosen and shake the mucus so that it can be expelled more easily. When your hand is cupped properly, it should create a hollow sound and shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort. You can also try percussion on the back using the same technique. (14)
7. Steam Inhalation
Inhaling humidified air, whether it’s cold or warm, has been shown to work as a h0me remedy for cough because it helps to enhance the drainage of congested airways. This can be particularly helpful for children who are coughing throughout the night and need relief in order to sleep. (15)
If you are suffering from chronic cough, which has lasted for 8 weeks or longer, it’s time to see your health care provider about a possible underlying condition. These home remedies for cough are effective in fighting infections that commonly cause a cough and reducing the duration and intensity of the cough, but they will not treat a cough that’s caused by a medical condition like lung disease, lung cancer or heart disease.
- Coughing is a natural reflex that helps to clear your airways of irritants like mucus, smoke, dust and allergens. It’s actually a defensive mechanism that’s in place to keep your airways clear of foreign substances.
- A cough can be caused by a number of issues, including viral infections, bacterial infections, allergies and side effects of certain medications.
- A dry cough is a hacking cough that usually worsens at night and can be caused by viral or bacterial infections or asthma. A wet cough it when there’s a buildup of mucus in your airways that needs to be expelled. This can also be caused by viral and bacterial infections that begin an inflammatory response.
- There are natural home remedies for cough that can be used in place of ineffective and possibly unsafe cough syrups. These remedies include:
- immune-boosting foods
- vitamin C
- zinc lozenges
- essential oils
- massage and percussion
- steam inhalation