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Over-the-counter cough syrups and cough drops only mask symptoms, and that means your cough could return at any time. Instead of hoping for the best, you can use holistic treatments that target the underlying cause of even the worst coughs.
Here are five of the best home remedies for cough:
Cough management requires a practical, comprehensive approach, and we’ll show you how to beat your cough with these at-home treatments.
How Coughing Works
Have you ever wondered what’s actually going on inside the body when you make that awful coughing sound?
Here’s what’s really happening:
- You take a gasp of air.
- The glottis covers the windpipe.
- The respiratory muscles contract.
- Pressure builds in the airway.
- The glottis bursts open and… you cough!
What Causes Coughing?
Coughing happens when you need to expel an irritant or cope with symptoms of a respiratory infection.
Acute coughing is coughing that lasts less than three weeks. This includes brief coughing fits and reactions to short-term respiratory infections. Acute coughs are typically “dry,” meaning there’s no mucus in the airway.
Chronic coughing, however, is coughing that lasts eight weeks or longer and requires professional medical intervention. These coughs are typically “wet” and are characterized by heavy phlegm and mucus production as a response to inflammation in the lungs.
Common causes of chronic cough include:
- Viral infections (bronchitis, pneumonia, cold, flu)
- GERD (acid reflux disease)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Sinus infection (due to persistent nasal drip)
Chronic coughing may also be caused by a reaction to certain medications like ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers, which can irritate nerve endings in the throat.
5 Home Remedies for Cough
From therapeutic essential oils to immune-boosting foods, here are five of the top natural remedies for cough:
1. Essential Oils
Essential oils are extracted from the roots, stems, flowers, and leaves of various medicinal plants. Most essential oils have a broad spectrum of antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which can be ideal for fighting infection and treating the underlying causes of coughing.
Some essential oils, however, can also relax the muscles of the respiratory system and help expel mucus. Eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary are some of the best essential oils for colds and coughs.
Research suggests that these three essential oils can have many benefits, including the reduction in frequency of coughs, relief from scratchy throats and congestion, as well as reduced inflammation and mucus production.
How to Use Essential Oils for Cough
You can add a few drops of essential oil to any hot shower, which will incorporate the oil with the steam and open up your sinuses for less irritation and coughing. Additionally, you can make your own essential oil vapor rub by mixing 1-2 drops of essential oil with half a teaspoon of coconut or MCT oil. Apply this DIY vapor rub to the chest and back of the neck for fast-acting relief.
2. Raw Honey
Raw honey’s immune-boosting antioxidants and antimicrobial effects are perfect when it comes to finding a home remedy for coughing. According to a 2011 meta-analysis, researchers think that raw honey may treat coughs by reducing inflammation and relieving irritation.
In a 2007 study published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, honey was tested against the cough-suppressing medication dextromethorphan in children with nighttime coughing. The honey group experienced a greater reduction in coughing than the dextromethorphan group.
To make your own DIY honey elixir, mix 1-2 teaspoons of raw honey in a cup of warm water with a few drops of lemon juice. However, if you are trying to alleviate coughing in children, you should not give raw honey to any child under one year of age due to the risk of infant botulism.
3. Marshmallow Root
Marshmallow root extract has long been used in Germany as a main ingredient in natural cough remedies. It has a high mucilage content, which eases coughing by coating the throat with a thick, gluey substance.
One small study found that an herbal cough medicine containing marshmallow root, thyme, and ivy can effectively relieve coughing caused by respiratory tract infections in humans after just 12 days of treatment.
In a 2018 study published in the journal Complementary Medicine Research, consumers reported on the efficacy of marshmallow root syrup as a treatment for irritative cough. The majority of participants reported a significant reduction in dry cough symptoms within 10 minutes of administration.
4. Gargle Salt Water
This simple, natural remedy for coughing is great for soothing a sore throat as well. Gargling salt water has been shown to reduce respiratory infections up to 40 percent, and can lessen the need to cough by reducing phlegm and mucus in the throat.
Mix a teaspoon of salt with 8oz of hot water. Stir the mixture until the salt has fully dissolved. Make sure the water isn’t too hot, then take a swig of the salt water and gargle for 15 to 30 seconds. After this, you can spit out the salt water, and repeat three times a day.
5. Eat Right
Eating immune-boosting foods can be extremely beneficial in preventing and fighting off a cough, and here are some of the best foods for supporting immunity, reducing inflammation, and thinning mucus:
- Probiotic foods: If you get frequent, recurring coughs, you may be more susceptible to illness due to a weakened gut lining. Probiotics like kombucha, coconut kefir, apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, and kimchi can reinforce the gut lining and fortify the immune system.
- Bone broth: Drinking hot bone broth made from chicken or beef cartilage can thin the mucus and help repair the gut lining with collagen.
- Ginger root: Ginger contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds like zingibain and may relax the muscles in the upper airway that control coughing.
- Stay Hydrated: This may seem like a no-brainer, but in order to be fully cough-resistant, you’ll have to drink plenty of fluids. Studies show that staying hydrated is essential to the treatment of coughs, and it may also soften mucosal secretions and help clear the airway.
Other Helpful Tips for Relieving a Cough at Home
As you seek to use home remedies for cough relief, you’ll also want to avoid pro-inflammatory foods like gluten, sugar, soda, fruit juice, dairy, hydrogenated oils, and processed foods.
If your nasal passages are congested, irritation from nasal drip can make your cough worse. If this is the case, you may want to try using a neti pot, which can flush out irritants and thin the mucus.
If you experience persistent coughing for longer than eight weeks, we recommend seeing a doctor for medical advice and treatment. At-home remedies are a great way to alleviate common cold or flu symptoms, but more serious complications may arise that require professional treatment.
Justin Fowler-Lindner, a former EMT turned freelance writer, spends his days popping supplements and soaking up the sun in tropical destinations around the world.