Coughs are one of the most annoying parts of being sick, and while it serves an important purpose for the body, coughing can disrupt sleep, interrupt work and activities, and be downright exhausting. When a nagging cough refuses to quit, your first instinct may be to reach for over-the-counter cough drops, but experts say many of the active ingredients in cough remedies are ineffective, and they can also come with side effects like unwanted drowsiness. Is there relief? Fortunately, there are many natural home remedies for coughs that help suppress this reflex so you can get the rest you need.
Why Do We Cough?
A cough is the body’s way of trying to clear the passages when nerve endings in the airways are irritated by a virus, bacteria, dust, or pollen. If you don’t contain your cough, it can spread droplets as far as 20 feet at 50 mph, and the germ particles can stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes. Not a pretty picture, is it? It’s important to cough into the crook of your arm to try and keep your germs contained, and avoid going out in public if you’re fighting a cold.
Types of Coughs
While it’s not always easy to pinpoint your type of cough, there are some key differences to help give you clues.
Upper respiratory tract infections such as the flu or the common cold can cause a hacking, dry cough. A dry cough can also alert you to infections like bronchitis or pneumonia. People who suffer from asthma may also experience a dry cough, especially when triggered by allergies, smoke, and other irritants.
In the height of allergy and cold season, many people are plagued by a cough caused by postnasal drip. Mucus drips down the throat, tickling nerve endings and triggering coughs. This type is often worse at night and can last up to 18 days after a cold or flu.
Very common in children, a croup cough sounds like a seal bark due to inflamed, irritated air passages and trachea and often follows a viral infection.
Also known as pertussis, whooping cough, like many other respiratory infections, comes with alerts such as fever, cough, watery eyes, congestion, and runny nose. You will most likely need a round of antibiotics if you are diagnosed with whooping cough, so a doctor visit is in order if you think whooping cough may be the culprit.
If you suffer from asthma, you may experience a rattly, wheezy, dry cough and difficulty breathing due to inflammation in your bronchial airways. Many times the cough becomes more persistent with exertion or when lying down at night.
Home Remedies for Coughs
To treat coughs related to a cold or allergies, give the following natural remedies a try for the rest and relaxation your body needs.
1. Hot Steam
Turn on the shower and turn up the heat. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to treat a cough from a cold or respiratory infection is with steam inhalation. Slowing breathing in moist steam can help moisturize dry, irritated airways, reduce inflammation, and loosen phlegm, making it easier to cough up. You can take a long, hot shower or simply sit in the bathroom while the water is running to make your own steam room.
For a more intense steam, boil a pot of distilled water. Then add cough-healing herbs like lavender and chamomile. You can also add essential oils such as peppermint, rosemary, and eucalyptus oils to the steam. Let the tea steep, and then cover your head with a towel and breathe in the herbal-infused warm water to both clear your sinuses and your cough.
Humidifiers push humidity (moisture) into the air. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a cool-mist humidifier can help ease a cough by loosening mucus. If not properly cleaned, however, humidifiers can contribute to the spread of bacteria and disease-encouraging fungi. Clean it out and put fresh, distilled water in the humidifier daily. And twice a week, give it a heavy-duty clean with disinfectant. You also want to keep humidity levels at 50% or lower, otherwise you’re creating an environment where mold and bacteria thrive.
The cool-mist of an essential oil diffuser can be used in place of or addition to a humidifier. Diffusing essential oils in an aromatherapy diffuser can help you relax and sleep better, and may also help subdue nighttime coughing.
3. Saline Rinse
Time for a saltwater sniff! Treating a cough with a saline wash is a drug-free effective approach to suppressing a cough. Using saline as nasal irrigation is a hygienic practice that rids the sinuses of excess mucus, debris, bacteria, and viruses, and reduces inflammation that is contributing to the cough.
To make your own nasal saline solution, mix together 1 cup of distilled water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Using a squeeze bottle, spray one or two squirts into each nostril. Sneeze gently to ensure the rinse was absorbed and slowly blow your nose. Repeat multiple times a day and store the solution at room temperature for 3 days.
Got leftover salt? Gargle with warm saltwater to ease your sore throat and take the scratch out of the cough.
4. Thyme Tea
Simon and Garfunkel probably didn’t know they were singing about a cough-suppressing herb, but thyme has flavonoids that help relax tracheal muscles and reduce inflammation. For hundreds of years, people have turned to thyme when plagued by bronchitis, a cough, or chest congestion. Helpful in clearing built-up mucus, thyme is a natural expectorant that allows a cough to become more productive and push congestion out of the airways.
Crush a couple teaspoons of thyme and brew in hot water for 10 minutes. Strain excess thyme, add a little honey, and drink. It’s time for thyme herbal tea!
5. Honey Cough Syrup
Your Grandma was right; honey is one of the best natural cough remedies around and is inexpensive and effective. Honey has been used since the time of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians to treat everything from wounds to insect bites. The golden nectar can coat and soothe a sore throat and calm a pesky cough. Raw honey is your best bet, as all vitamins, nutrients, and enzymes are intact. Raw honey also contains antiviral properties that help boost your immune system.
Either take a spoonful of honey directly or mix it into a cup of hot water or tea. You can make your own honey cough syrup with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of raw honey, 2 tablespoons water, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. Place all ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine. Shake well before using each time.
An important note of caution: honey contains a type of botulism that can cause food poisoning in babies, so do not feed honey to a child under the age of one.
6. Grape Juice
Grape juice acts as a natural expectorant and lightens the phlegm that causes chest congestion. To maximize the benefits, it’s best to make fresh juice from red grapes and sweeten with a teaspoon of honey. Making your own grape juice retains the highest amount of antioxidant phytochemicals and can help stifle a cough more effectively.
Puree red grapes in a food processor until smooth and then strain the mixture to retain the juice. You can drink the juice cold, or pour into popsicle molds or paper cups and stick in the freezer to make delicious, throat-soothing popsicles.
7. Licorice Tea
Licorice is the root of a plant native to Europe and Asia. When dried, licorice is an effective cough suppressant and can help soothe an irritated throat and respiratory inflammation. Add licorice root powder to boiling water and drink as symptoms persist.
8. Pineapple Cough Medicine
It’s time to get tropical. Pineapple has been shown to soothe the throat and dissolve the mucus buildup that occurs during a cold and flu. Pineapple juice contains bromelain, a type of enzyme that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing properties. Plus, you’ll get a good boost of vitamin C to help you fight the cold causing your annoying cough.
For an excellent natural cold remedy, mix 2 slices of fresh pineapple with the peel removed, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and a small piece of ginger in a blender or food processor. You can leave the mixture as is or strain it for a smoother texture. Take a spoonful when needed and keep the remaining syrup refrigerated.
9. Ginger Tea
Ginger is a powerhouse herb that originated in India and can soothe a long list of ailments, including a sore throat and cough. The warmth of ginger helps expel mucus from the lungs and relaxes coughing spasms. With strong anti-inflammatory properties, ginger can also reduce airway inflammation.
Create your own cough remedy that soothes your throat and lung tissues and supports your immune system by simmering 2 tablespoons of ginger in 6 cups of water for 5 to 10 minutes. Add some lemon juice to flavor it up and for an extra splash of vitamin C.
You can also mix half a teaspoon of dry ginger powder into a cup of hot water. Another effective method is to mince ginger root and put into a tea strainer and drop in your bath water. Sit back, relax, and inhale the healing vapors as they soothe and relieve your cough.
10. Turmeric Milk
Growing in popularity, the golden yellow-colored herb turmeric is recognized in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for its excellent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. Because turmeric can fight both bacteria and viruses, it’s useful for treating coughs caused by a throat and respiratory tract infection.
To make a soothing turmeric drink, mix 1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder in a cup of warm milk (cow, coconut, almond, rice, soy), add 1 tablespoon of honey, and a pinch of black pepper. Sit back and enjoy your virus-fighting, anti-inflammatory beverage.
If a cough lingers for more than a couple of weeks, see your doctor to rule out a sinus infection or other cause. Be sure to keep hydrated, as liquids help thin out the mucus and reduce the need to cough. Remember, coughing is beneficial and your body’s normal reflex for clearing your airways, but when you are looking to find a little relief and catch some much-needed zzzs, give one or two home remedies for coughs a try.