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Coughing is a natural reflex that occurs when something irritates your throat or airways. Occasional coughs are normal and even healthy as they help the body flush out built-up mucus and debris. However, that doesn’t make them any less painful or exhausting.
The most common causes of coughing are:
Coughs caused by asthma, infections, and allergies should be treated by a healthcare provider. However, if your cough continues to linger after a viral infection or is the result of irritation, here are eight tips to help treat it at home.
Honey is highly viscous and works similarly to a cough drop. When it is consumed, it coats the lining of the throat, alleviating soreness or scratchiness. Most types of honey that are studied for use in coughs are dark honeys, like dark buckwheat honey, rather than the more commonly available clover honey.
A 2007 study published in the Journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that honey was more effective in treating nighttime coughs than Dextromethorphan, a common cough medicine, which is generally not recommended for children – especially under age 6.
The study consisted of 105 children from ages two to 18 years old. Thirty minutes before the children went to sleep their parents administered either a dose of honey, Dextromethorphan, or no treatment at all. Honey was the most effective treatment for reducing the severity of the child’s cough and improving their sleep.
Honey also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties – which may contribute to its relieving effect. These properties help fight off infections and can boost your immune system.
While you can consume honey plain, adding it to warm tea may increase its soothing effect on the throat.
However, children under the age of one shouldn’t take honey, because it can contain bacteria that cause infant botulism, a rare but life-threatening illness.
Gargling salt water can help kill bacteria and loosen mucus in your throat. Loosening mucus in your throat will help clear your sinuses and get rid of your cough faster.
A salt water gargle can also help reduce swelling and irritation caused by persistent coughing. For best results, add one-fourth to half a teaspoon of salt to an eight ounce glass of water.
Although most people prefer to gargle warm salt water, cold water may have the same relieving effect on your cough. “It really just depends on what feels best to the particular person to soothe the cough that they have,” says Jason McKnight, MD, clinical professor at Texas A&M University. Though, warm water may help the salt dissolve faster.
Ginger is a tropical plant commonly used as a dietary supplement. It can help treat various health issues including nausea, the common cold, or chemotherapy symptoms.
Like honey, the bioactive compounds in ginger have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger also has a spicy taste, which stimulates saliva production, and can help improve a dry mouth or throat.
McKnight says reactions to consuming spices, herbs, and spicy foods may vary between people who have a cough. For some, it may be helpful, but for others, it can cause further irritation and worsen your hacking.
Most people consume ginger via fresh or dry ginger root, though, you can also take it as a supplement in either a capsule or tincture formulation.
For added cough relieving capabilities, try adding ginger and honey to your tea.
Breathing in steam helps loosen nasal congestion. This will make blowing your nose easier and, if you’re experiencing post-nasal drip, release built-up mucus in the throat. Because steam can moisturize a sore throat, it may also provide pain relief.
For temporary relief, try breathing in steam from a boiling pot of water. Once the water begins to produce steam, take it off the stove, and place your face above it. Drape a towel over your head to help trap the steam, but be careful not to get too close or you may burn yourself. You can also get a similar effect by taking a hot shower.
A humidifier may also be a good option to help keep your sinuses clear during the winter or if you live in a dry climate. Humidifiers add moisture to the air by emitting water vapour or steam into a room.
The size of your humidifier will determine how much area it will cover. McKnight says they usually only add enough moisture for one room, so it is best to keep it in a place where you spend the majority of your time, such as the bedroom.
If you do use a humidifier, be sure to change the water frequently and keep it clean so you don’t accidentally end up spreading mould or bacteria around your home.
To find a humidifier, check our Insider Reviews buying guide for the best humidifiers.
Air purifiers help remove allergens from your home that trigger sneezing, coughing, and a runny nose. They work by moving the air in your home through a series of filters that clear mould, bacteria, or dust – producing fresh, clean air.
McKnight says that air purifiers may be especially helpful for people who suffer from seasonal allergies. Like humidifiers, air purifiers tend to be effective in just one room, so remember to place it wisely. It’s also important to regularly clean purifiers to ensure the filters work properly.
If you’re interested in purchasing one, Insider Reviews also has a buying guide for the best air purifier.
Marshmallow root is an herbal supplement thought to soothe irritated mucous membranes located in the throat and mouth. The roots and leaves of marshmallow contain a thick substance called mucilage. When mixed with water, mucilage forms a gel-like texture that can coat the throat, much like honey.
A 2018 study published in Complementary Medicine Research with over 800 participants found that both lozenges and marshmallow root extract helped treat dry coughs. Most participants saw their symptoms improve within 10 minutes of taking the extract.
Marshmallow root is available in dried leaf form, teas, tinctures, or capsules.
Thyme is an herb thought to soothe smooth muscle spasms, including those caused by coughing.
A 2006 study published in the German journal, Drug Research, found that a combined treatment of thyme and ivy improved coughing and other symptoms of acute bronchitis.
To relieve coughing, thyme can be consumed as a tincture, herbal tea, or in pill form.
One of the easiest and safest ways to improve your cough is to stay hydrated. Drinking water helps thin mucus, allowing it to leave the body through your mouth or nose. It can also help those who are sick replace lost fluids from sweating or having a runny nose.
For more information, read about how much water you’re supposed to drink a day for optimal health and hydration.
McKnight recommends seeing a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms with your cough:
It is not uncommon for a cough to continue even after you stop feeling sick, says Susan Roberman, MD, a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University.
But if your cough persists for several weeks, you should also consult with your doctor, as it may be the result of a more serious health condition, like heart or lung disease.
Although some home remedies like drinking tea with honey or gargling warm salt water may help alleviate short-term coughing symptoms, they won’t treat an underlying illness. That’s why Roberman advises you to first address any illness or condition that may be causing the cough before working on alleviating the symptoms.
“If your cough is caused by smoking or tobacco use, no home remedy is going to help you,” says Roberman. Likewise, she says if your cough is the result of allergies, asthma, or an infection, you should try to take medication for the underlying condition before relying on these home remedies.