Home remedies for cough

You can’t cure colds or the flu, but you can relieve the cough and sore throat that sometimes come with them.

Use cough drops or hard candy. Menthol and certain herbal cough drops can slightly numb and soothe your sore throat. But sucking on plain hard candy may work just as well.

Try a teaspoon of honey. This traditional remedy for sore throat may help soothe coughs, too. Try adding a spoonful to your tea, but don’t give honey to kids under 1 year old.

Drink up. Sipping on drinks will keep your throat moist and comfortable. When your throat doesn’t hurt, you may not cough. Just about any drink is OK except alcohol or caffeinated drinks. Those can dry you out. Also avoid orange juice and other citrus drinks if they bother your throat.

Heat up that drink. Sip some warm tea or chicken soup to heat up your airways. Not only will it hydrate you, but the warmth helps break up mucus and makes it easier to cough up.

Use cough medicine. Sometimes you need to cough to get out nasty mucus. But other times you need to calm your cough, like when you want to sleep. Over-the-counter cough medicine can help. Expectorants help you cough up mucus. Cough suppressants reduce your urge to cough. If you’re not sure which kind you need, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Use a decongestant. These over-the-counter meds can help clear your stuffy nose. If postnasal drip is irritating your throat and making you cough, decongestants may help both your throat and cough. Be careful: While cold and cough medicines are fine for adults and older kids, they are not safe for children under age 4.

Breathe in steam. If a raw, dry throat is making you cough, moisture may help. Try breathing in steam from a hot shower. Or use a humidifier or vaporizer in your room while you sleep. The steam can keep your nose and throat from being too dry and get rid of that back-of-the-throat tickle. The moisture can also ease your breathing and loosen mucus, helping you cough it up.

Can’t stop coughing? Cold and flu season is here, and from a tickly to a chesty or a persistent cough, it can be frustrating if you just can’t shake it. A cough usually clears up on its own within 3-4 weeks but there are a few things you can do at home to speed up the process.

Our resident pharmacist Rita Ghelani recommends the best over-the-counter cough remedies, so you can focus on getting better.

What type of cough do you have?

A cough is a protective reflex that is basically your body trying to expel unwanted substances from the airways. There are two main types of cough:

  • Chesty cough: caused by the build up of excess mucus in the lungs.
  • Dry cough: caused by irritation in the upper airways and throat.

How to get rid of a chesty cough

A chesty cough produces thin clear mucus that the body tries to clear away by coughing.

✔️ Treatment: Using cough medicines, referred to as expectorants will help to break up and loosen excess mucus – making it easier to clear away by coughing and reducing the risk of getting a build-up of mucus in the lungs.

Expectant cough medicines usually contain guaifensesin, ipecacuanha and squill. Taking these with a small amount of warm water will help liquefy the mucus.

Medicines for chesty cough

Benylin Chesty Coughs


Covonia Chesty Cough mixture


Robitussin Chesty Cough


Benylin Mucus Cough


How to get rid of a dry cough

A dry cough doesn’t usually produce any mucus, it often starts as a tickle in the back of the throat. Dry coughs can make your throat feel sore and may make you feel more tired, especially if your sleep is disturbed due to the cough.

A dry cough can sometimes be due to postnasal drip – this is when mucus runs down the back of the nose into the throat. This can trigger a cough, that may be worse at night when you lie down.

✔️ Treatment: A dry cough can be treated by using a cough suppressant medicine such as pholcodine or dextromethorphan – these work on the cough centre in the brain to reduce the coughing reflex.

Medicines for dry coughs

Benylin Dry Coughs syrup


Covonia Original Balsam


Robitussin Dry Cough


Glycerin, Honey & Lemon linctus


How to relieve your cough

Research suggests that it is not necessary to distinguish between whether a cough is dry or chesty for treatment, since cough is a reflex reaction, and that it is better to look at ways to relieve the cough and any associated symptoms.

✔️ Treatment: Using a cough syrup or cough lozenge that coats the throat and has a soothing effect may be the best option. Try Unicough solution that is formulated to help manage the cough reflex and soothe throat.

Related Story

Top tips to help soothe your throat

Irrespective of your type of cough, the associated symptoms can be debilitating. Try the following tips and don’t forget: rest is best!

✔️ Drink plenty of fluids

Warm drinks made with lemon and honey can be soothing.

✔️ Get plenty of rest

Your body needs the energy to fight off any virus that may be causing the cough.

✔️ Try steam inhalation

This will help to loosen up mucus in your airways.

✔️ Suck a cough lozenge

This will help to keep the back of your throat lubricated. Try Jakemans menthol sweets.

✔️ Gargle with warm water and salt

This will help clear away viruses and bacteria at the back of the throat.

✔️ Take supplements

Zinc and vitamin C or herbal supplement Echinacea could give your immune system a boost.

Related Story

Last updated: 25-11-19

Rita Ghelani (BPharm, MRPharmS) Pharmacist A UK registered practising pharmacist with over 20 years’ experience, Rita is a member of the medical journalists’ association (MJA) and has a wealth of experience in community pharmacy.

Coughs: Meds or Home Remedies?

Medicines (OTC)

Over-the-Counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines can cause side effects. These side effects can be serious in young children. The risks of using these medicines outweigh any benefits. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looked at this issue in children. They recommended these medicines never be used in young children. After age 6, the medicines are safe to use, if you follow the package instructions. But, it’s easy to treat coughs and colds without these medicines.

Home Remedies:

A good home remedy is safe, cheap, and as helpful as OTC medicines. They are also found in nearly every home. Here are some simple but helpful home treatments.

1. Runny Nose: Just suction it or blow it. Teach your child how to blow the nose at age 2 or 3. When your child’s nose runs like a faucet, it’s getting rid of viruses. Allergy medicines (such as Benadryl) do not help the average cold. They are useful only if your child has nasal allergies (hay fever).

2. Blocked Nose: Use nasal saline.

  • Use saline (salt water) nose drops or spray to loosen up the dried mucus. If you don’t have saline, you can use a few drops of water. Use distilled water, bottled water or boiled tap water.
  • Step 1: Put 3 drops in each nostril. If age under 1 year old, use 1 drop.
  • Step 2: Blow (or suction) each nostril separately, while closing off the other nostril. Then do other side.
  • Step 3: Repeat nose drops and blowing (or suctioning) until the discharge is clear.
  • How Often: Do nasal saline rinses when your child can’t breathe through the nose. Limit: If under 1 year old, no more than 4 times per day or before every feeding.
  • Saline nose drops or spray can be bought in any drugstore. No prescription is needed.
  • Saline nose drops can also be made at home. Use ½ teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt. Stir the salt into 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of warm water. Use bottled water or boiled water to make saline nose drops.
  • Reason for nose drops: Suction or blowing alone can’t remove dried or sticky mucus. Also, babies can’t nurse or drink from a bottle unless the nose is open.
  • Other option: use a warm shower to loosen mucus. Breathe in the moist air, then blow (or suction) each nostril.
  • For young children, can also use a wet cotton swab to remove sticky mucus.
  • Medicines. There are no drugs that can remove dried mucus from the nose.

3. Coughing: Use homemade cough medicines.

  • Age 3 months to 1 year. Give warm clear fluids (such as apple juice or lemonade). Dose: 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml) four times per day when coughing. Under 3 months, see your child’s doctor. Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old.
  • Age 1 year and older. Use Honey ½ to 1 teaspoon (2 to 5 ml) as needed. It thins the secretions and loosens the cough. If you don’t have honey, you can use corn syrup. Research shows that honey works better than cough syrups to reduce nighttime coughing.
  • Age 6 years and older. Use Cough Drops to decrease the tickle in the throat. If you don’t have any, you can use hard candy. Avoid cough drops before 6 years. Reason: risk of choking.
  • Coughing fits. The warm mist from a shower can help.

4. Fluids: Help your child drink lots of fluids. Staying well hydrated thins the body’s secretions. That makes it easier to cough and blow the nose.

5. Humidity: If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. Moist air keeps the nose and airway from drying out. Run a warm shower for a while to help put moisture in the air.

Treatment is Not Always Needed:

  • If symptoms aren’t bothering your child, they don’t need medicine or any treatment. Many children with a cough or cold are happy, play fine and sleep well.
  • Only treat symptoms if they cause discomfort or wake your child up. Treat a cough if it’s hacking and really bothers your child.
  • Fevers are helpful. Only treat them if they slow your child down or cause some discomfort. That does not occur until 102° F (39° C) or higher. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) can be given. Use to treat higher fever or pain. See Dose tables.


If coughs or colds need treatment, home remedies may work better than medicines.

Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations

If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, call 911.

Last Reviewed: 02/01/2020

Last Revised: 03/14/2019

Copyright 2000-2019 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.

10 Tips for Day and Night Cough Relief

When you’re dealing with a cough, that itch in your throat can crop up at the worst times. A cough can be uncomfortable and annoying when you are trying to get through your day, and a cough that acts up at night can also disrupt your sleep. So how can you get a much-needed break from a stubborn cough?

“Most coughs disappear within a few weeks, no matter what you do,” says Olveen Carrasquillo, MD, the chief of the division of internal medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He notes that cough remedies is an area where scientific proof traditionally has been lacking; patient trial-and-error seems to lead to the best solutions. “All of my patients have at least one cough remedy that they swear works for them,” says Dr. Carrasquillo.

Try these soothing remedies for cough relief — you’re bound to find one that will do the trick.

10 Ways to Stop Coughing Day and Night

RELATED: Follow flu-risk trends in your area with the Everyday Health Flu Map

When your cough is keeping you from focusing on daytime tasks (and possibly distracting your coworkers), these tips can help tame the hacking:

  1. Try an expectorant. Over-the-counter (OTC) cough medications with an expectorant such as guaifenesin work by clearing the mucus and other secretions of a productive cough so that you can breathe easier.
  2. Take a cough suppressant. OTC cough remedies often contain dextromethorphan, which may provide temporary relief from a dry, hacking cough.
  3. Sip green tea. Hot tea has been a cough remedy for hundreds of years. A review article published in August 2014 in Frontiers in Microbiology concluded that antioxidant-rich green tea may also help protect the body against viral and bacterial infections, including the flu. Add honey for extra relief (see nighttime tips, below).
  4. Stay hydrated. Getting enough fluids is always a good idea, and even more so when you have a cold, as staying hydrated helps to thin mucus and make coughs more productive, and potentially helps fight your infection. Water is ideal, but soothing chicken soup counts, too.
  5. Suck on lozenges. Cough drops are good for soothing a scratchy, dry throat and reducing the urge to cough. No lozenges? A hard candy also provides moisture and can help relieve a dry cough.

To help you get the rest you need, try these nighttime remedies to quell your cough:

  1. Have some honey. Honey has been used as a home cough remedy for ages, and research shows that giving honey to children reduces their coughing at night. In fact, honey worked as well as medications containing dextromethorphan. However, honey isn’t suggested for children younger than 1 year because of possible impurities and the risk of infant botulism.
  2. Zap your cough with a vaporizer. Using a vaporizer or a humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can moisten your airway passages, potentially reducing the likelihood that a dry, hacking cough will wake you up. (This can also provide daytime cough relief; set it up wherever you spend the most time, such as in your office or family room.)
  3. Elevate your head while you rest. Sleeping with your head elevated can reduce coughing from postnasal drip. Sleeping this way also helps alleviate GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which can cause coughing.
  4. Apply vapor rub. The same menthol-scented balm your mother or grandmother rubbed on your chest when you were a kid can help clear nasal passages, which can help relieve nighttime coughing. It still works great on your kids as well.
  5. Switch to a nighttime cough formula. These versions of both expectorants and cough suppressants often include an antihistamine, which would make you drowsy at work — taken at night, however, they will help you stop coughing to get the sleep you need to feel better in the morning.

One final and important tip: If you just can’t shake your cough, see a family doctor. “A persistent cough that doesn’t go away should be checked, as it may be a sign of something more serious, such as chronic sinusitis, acid reflux, asthma, bronchitis, or pneumonia,” says Carrasquillo.

6 Ways to Sleep Off a Cold

Sleep is one of the best medicines when it comes to fighting off colds. It’s a big booster for your immune system, improving your body’s ability to fend off viruses before they take hold. And when you do get sick, adequate sleep helps you bounce back faster, in part by maximizing the infection-fighting antibodies that your body produces. So what do you do when a cough or stuffy nose is keeping you up at night? These simple strategies can help you manage cold symptoms—so you can get the rest that you need.

Have Some Tea With Honey

Just like the classic chicken noodle soup, any hot soup or beverage can steam up dry nasal passages, making it easier to breathe. So try some tea with honey in it. Remember, honey doesn’t just soothe a sore throat—it can also be as effective as cough suppressant meds at quieting a cough.

Take a Steamy Shower

Hot steam in the shower can also open your nasal passages, loosening dried mucous and clearing your airways. Plus, it’s a good way to wind down and relax before getting under the covers.
Use a Humidifier

Dry, indoor air and cold season go hand in hand. Luckily, a good humidifier can help to battle both by adding moisture into the air and soothing dry sinuses. But beware: If you don’t maintain your humidifier by cleaning it regularly, it can breed mold and bacteria, contributing to the very problems that you’re using them to relieve. Keep it clean by changing the water daily and cleaning the tank at least every few days.

Pile Up The Pillows

If it feels like your symptoms get worse as soon as you lie down, you’re probably right. That’s because when you’re horizontal, mucous can collect, causing a cough and even a sore throat. Propping yourself up with pillows helps gravity work to your advantage.

Try Cold and Flu Meds

Decongestants, cough suppressants, expectorants—there are plenty of different medications that can ease symptoms so you can rest. Read labels carefully to try to match the drugs to your symptoms since it’s best to avoid combination meds that treat symptoms you don’t have. And, at bedtime, steer clear of medications labeled “daytime” or “non-drowsy” since they may have ingredients that could keep you awake.

Don’t Force It

If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and move to a different area of your home. Read a book, listen to music, or sip another cup of hot herbal tea. Then try hitting the sack again in another 15 to 30 minutes.

8 Home Remedies to Stop a Bad Cough

While it usually only takes about 7 to 10 days for a cough to clear up, that doesn’t make the week you spend coughing any better. Living with a cough can ruin your sleep and make you feel generally miserable. Persistent coughs can be serious, even with no other symptoms, and you should contact your doctor. Still, cough home remedies may be useful to stop a cold and cough.

Why do you cough? “Most coughs due to colds are caused by nasal drainage in the back of the nose,” says Stephen Russell, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Moody Center. This condition, commonly called postnasal drip, results in an irritation, and you cough to try to clear it.

Other common causes of cough include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic rhinitis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn)
  • Sinusitis

With gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach acid regurgitates or backs up into the esophagus to cause a bitter or sour stomach taste in your mouth or throat. Also, GERD can cause the following symptoms:

  • Asthma
  • Cough
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Mid-chest pain
  • Spasm of the larynx

Asthma is a more serious cause of cough that is increasingly common today. Cough-type asthma has been labeled “hidden asthma” or “cough-variant asthma,” and is vastly underdiagnosed and undertreated. Triggers for cough-variant asthma are usually respiratory infections and exercise. Until an asthma attack occurs, you may not realize how your lungs are involved.

Home remedies for cough include a variety of products you can find in your kitchen, such as honey and lemon in a favorite hot tea. Also, drinking plenty of fluids — water, juices, and caffeine-free tea — may help to thin the mucus and soothe an irritated throat.

According to the Mayo Clinic, children age 2 and older with upper respiratory tract infections resulting in cough were given up to 2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime. A study published in August 2013 in the journal Pediatric Clinics of North America showed the honey appeared to work as a home remedy for cough. Not only did the honey reduce nighttime coughing, it also improved sleep. Honey is low-cost option, and might be worth a try in children over age 2.

A new study published online in July 2017 in the Clinical Respiratory Journal concluded that drinking coffee was generally associated with a reduction in prevalence of asthma. In fact, drinking coffee with natural honey was an effective treatment for persistent postinfectious cough.

Wonder how to stop a cold? The Mayo Clinic recommends using a neti pot with saline solution to irrigate or rinse the nasal cavity and reduce thick mucus. A neti pot is a shallow container with a long, conical spout. Leaning over the bathroom sink, you can gently pour the saline solution from the neti pot spout into one nostril and let it drip out the other one. Repeat this on the other side and blow gently. Neti pot irrigation helps relieve congestion with a cold or cough.

Specific infections, such as pertussis (whooping cough), can also cause coughing independent of nasal drainage, according to Dr. Russell. Regardless of what’s causing your cough, here are some easy home remedies for coughing.



Upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold or flu often put your mucus membranes into overdrive – clogging up your airways and causing chest congestion.

When you get sick, your body produces extra mucus & phlegm to help flush out the intruding virus, good phlegm, bad phlegm or too much phlegm, regardless of the underlying cause, the human body reacts quickly which can lead to some uncomfortable symptoms.


Mucus is normally present in the body, but when you’re suffering from the cold or flu too much mucus is produced which can lead to coughing, congestion and pain. Coughing and mucus is your body’s way of trying to remove the irritant that has entered your upper respiratory system. Once an irritant is inhaled, mucus production is stimulated and tiny hairs in the lining of your nose and windpipe called cilia transport the mucus and irritant up and out of your throat. There it can either be coughed out (or expectorated) or swallowed into the stomach.


  • Wet or dry cough
  • Discomfort or tenderness in the chest
  • Mucus and phlegm produced with a cough

Chest congestion symptoms can be the result of multiple ailments, but if your chest congestion is a result of a cold then it should typically last less than 10 days.

See chest cold for more information, or talk to a doctor if your cough and chest congestion persists after other cold symptoms have stopped.



Dealing with a constant cough can be tough, especially if it is keeping you up at night. Try these suggestions to ease the symptoms of chest congestion while your medicine gets to work.

Tips & Home remedies to help you feel better with chest congestion:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Use a humidifier or take a hot shower
  • Get bed rest with your head elevated
  • Drink hot tea with lemon and honey
  • Use a hot compress on your chest
  • Avoid unhealthy foods


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The common cold is an overwhelmingly prevalent acute illness in most communities. It presents with a variety of symptoms, one of which is a nagging cough with which most people are all too familiar. Before recommending any OTC cough suppressants, pharmacists must remind patients to consult a medical professional before giving these medications to children younger than 4 years.1
What is the best way to stop coughing? That is a million-dollar question. In 2019, 44% of pharmacists surveyed in Pharmacy Times®’ 2019 OTC Guide® recommended Delsym (dextromethorphan) as a first-line cough suppressant. Another 30% suggested Mucinex DM (guaifenesin/dextromethorphan), and 20% advocated for Robitussin (guaifenesin). It is true: Antitussives and expectorants are the mainstays of OTC therapy to stop coughing. Antitussives are indicated in dry and persistent coughs, while expectorants, such as guaifenesin, should be recommended when patients complain of wet coughs, which are often accompanied by mucus.1
It is also important to address patients’ expectations. The American Academy of Family Physicians found that dextromethorphan decreased cough count by 19% to 36%, which translated to 8 to 10 fewer coughs over 30 minutes. Guaifenesin had seemingly more favorable results, decreasing cough frequency and intensity by 75% after 3 days, but the results were not statistically significant (P = .5).2 Additionally, clinicians should tell patients to discontinue use if they develop serious adverse effects, including confusion; swelling of the face, lips, or tongue; or shortness of breath.3 Overall, OTC products cannot cure that troublesome cough but, when used appropriately, can help with symptom management and even provide peace of mind.
Many people look to home remedies or natural products to relieve persistent coughs. One of the best-researched options is honey. Giving a child with a cough 1.5 to 2 Tbsp of honey 30 minutes before bedtime has been recommended as a way to increase sleep for both the child and the caregiver. Using honey may or may not be effective in adults.4 It is important to note that the FDA does not monitor other common complementary and alternative medicines, and they should be used with caution. These include ginger, marshmallow root, probiotics, and thyme.5 The FDA does recommend gargles, nasal sprays, and saline drops to keep mucous membranes moist and loosen mucus.6 Finally, running humidifiers or cool-mist vaporizers at the bedside can moisten the air and help ease airway irritation that might be causing the cough. Patients should see a medical professional if symptoms do not resolve in 2 weeks or get worse.
For more pharmacist OTC recommendations, visit The OTC Guide website.

Emily C. Hayes is a PharmD candidate at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in Storrs.

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