How to Get Rid of a Cough


Story at-a-glance -

  • A study found that raw honey works just as well as dextromethorphan, an ingredient used in OTC drugs, to soothe cough triggered by upper respiratory tract infections, particularly in children
  • Drinking enough water helps thin out mucus. It also keeps mucous membranes moist, which may reduce the need to cough

Contrary to what many people believe, a cough is not a disease in and of itself — rather, it's a symptom, a warning sign that your body gives out to let you know that there's something wrong with your health, and that there's an underlying condition that you need to take care of.

For example, a cough can present itself with the common cold and other types of respiratory illness. It may manifest if you have gastrointestinal problems like GERD, or may be triggered by prescription medications. In some cases, it may be a sign of a severe health disorder, such as if you're coughing up blood — a condition called hemoptysis, which can be indicative of tuberculosis, bronchitis or even lung cancer.1

Although there are many different causes of cough , the reason why it happens is the same: to help clear your lungs and upper airway passages by expelling mucus or any foreign material. Whether you have a wet or dry cough, this is just a natural protective mechanism that your body uses so you can breathe easy.

However, there's no doubt that you want to ease this uncomfortable symptom and get your health back on track. To help you cope with this problem, check out the recommended strategies below.

How to Get Rid of a Cough Fast

There are a few things you can do at home to help ease your cough. If you're looking for an easy, hassle-free way to stop coughing, try these solutions:2,3,4,5

Rest — This is the first thing you need to do to help stop coughing, especially if a virus or an infection is the trigger. You need to make sure your body has sufficient energy so your immune system can fight off the virus, and if you keep pushing yourself too hard, you will just end up exhausted, prolonging the illness and the coughing.

Drink enough water — Coughing that's triggered by an upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or flu, is often due to postnasal drip,6 which occurs when mucus trickles down the back of your throat, causing irritation. Drinking enough water helps thin out mucus. It also keeps mucous membranes moist, which may reduce the need to cough.

Take a steamy shower — Turn on the hot water in your bathroom and then breathe in the steam. Not only does it prevent the throat and nose from drying out, but also keeps the mucus from trickling  down the back of the throat.7 Doing this may help ease coughs caused by respiratory infections and allergies.

Turn on your humidifier — This works the same way as a steam bath. A humidifier brings back moisture in the air. Just make sure to keep it clean, as it can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria and mold.8

Eliminate irritants from the air, including cigarette smoke — The scented bathroom sprays and air fresheners you use may seem harmless, but for some people, they may be a potential cause of chronic sinus irritation, increasing your mucus production. Stop using these products immediately.

Cigarette smoke is another often-ignored cause of cough, as it can irritate the airways. In fact, almost all smokers develop "smoker's cough."9 If you're a smoker, stop this habit. Avoid secondhand smoke as well.

Gargle with saltwater — This will help ease a cough that comes with inflamed tissue, as well as dislodge any mucus from your throat so it can be easily expelled.10 The salt draws water out from your cells, helping curb the swelling and reducing the discomfort.

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Try These 7 Natural Cough Remedies

If the above strategies do not work, you can turn to these holistic solutions to help ease your cough:11,12,13

1. Use raw honey — This versatile food is a demulcent, meaning it forms a protective film in the mouth or throat to help relieve irritation. A study even found that it works just as well as dextromethorphan, an ingredient used in OTC drugs, to soothe cough triggered by upper respiratory tract infections, particularly in children.14

To use raw honey for cough, you can take a spoonful or mix it with a bit of lemon juice and coconut oil for additional benefits.

2. Time for some thyme — Thyme works as an expectorant and contains flavonoids that help your tracheal and ileal muscles relax, both of which are involved in coughing. It may also reduce other symptoms like inflammation and headaches.

In Germany, this herb is officially approved by the Commission E government agency as a cough treatment, and a remedy for whooping cough, bronchitis and respiratory infections.15

The best way to make use of thyme as a cough remedy is to steep it as a tea. Just mix 2 teaspoons crushed thyme leaves in a cup of boiling water and cover. After steeping for 10 minutes, strain the liquid and drink. You can add honey if you like.

3. Enjoy a cup of black pepper tea — According to Mother Nature Network, this works best on wet cough, and not on dry cough. Black pepper works by stimulating circulation and promoting mucus flow.16

To make black pepper tea, simply place a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper in a cup. Fill with boiling water and let steep for 15 minutes before adding a teaspoon of honey. Strain and sip.

4. Try soursopThe leaves of this plant are said to help relieve cough, as well as fever, asthma and toothaches.17 Simply boil it into soursop tea and drink.

5. Make a flaxseed, honey and lemon syrup — According to Reader's Digest, this creates a thick, gooey gel that can ease discomfort in the throat and bronchial tract. To make it, boil two to three tablespoons of flaxseeds in a cup of water. Strain and then add three tablespoons each of honey and lemon juice.18 Take 1 tablespoon at a time until your cough dissipates.

6. Try licorice — Licorice can help ease inflammation and irritation in the throat,19 as well as relieve coughing. Licorice root also relaxes bronchial spasms and helps loosen mucus. You can either make tea using fresh licorice root or add licorice tincture (a few drops will do) to a cup of hot water and then sip.

7. Get relief from ginger — Ginger's medicinal uses have been known for a long time, particularly for symptoms of the common cold and flu.20 Ginger may provide some benefits due to its decongestant and antihistamine properties. Simply steep fresh ginger root, add lemon and honey, and then drink as needed.

Another root crop that may help ease cough is fingerroot. The fresh rhizomes of this plant may help ease inflammatory diseases, as well as dry cough and cold21

Essential Oils for Cough

The use of essential oils for medicinal purposes — known as aromatherapy — has a long history. Health Line22 lists some notable essential oils that effectively provide relief from coughing:

Eucalyptus oilA study found that this oil has the ability to relieve cough and associated respiratory ailments, such as bronchitis, sinusitis and pharyngitis.23

Rosemary oil Along with calming the muscles found in your trachea to give respiratory relief, rosemary oil is also known to help in asthma treatment.24

Bergamot oil —Through its component called camphene, bergamot oil may help ease congestion. Inhaling camphene is found to helping relieve respiratory tract fluid.25

Cinnamon oil — This oil works by preventing common bacteria from reproducing. A study26 also said that cinnamon oil can help eradicate respiratory tract pathogens if diffused for a short timeframe.

Take note that these essential oils are best inhaled by adding them to a diffuser or a bowl of hot water, and then breathing in the steam. Be careful when using any essential oil, and don't use the oils topically without diluting in a safe carrier oil. You should also do a skin patch test before topical application.

Focus Not Just on the Symptom, but on the Underlying Cause

Remember that there's not just one cause for coughs, and the best way to eradicate yours is to identify the underlying cause. If you want to learn about the different cough types and what triggers them, please read my article, "7 Kinds of Coughs and What They Might Mean." By paying close attention to the details, you will better identify the cause, which can help guide you on the road to recovery.