Whether you choose honey-sweetened tea or sliced onions, these home remedies may help stop your cough.
Believe it or not, a cough is actually a good thing. The Mayo Clinic says that this is your body’s way of getting rid of an irritant by clearing out your airways. But a cough can also keep you up all night and make you generally miserable — and sometimes it feels like it’s never going to go away.
The good news is that most coughs go away on their own without treatment. In the meantime, there are several natural remedies for cough that have proven benefits, says Stephen Russell, MD, a physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham department of medicine and an expert in upper respiratory infections.
Here are Russell’s tips for how to stop coughing attacks and some of his favorite home remedies for cough, many of which you probably already have in your kitchen or medicine cabinet.
- Have Some Honey — It’s a Natural Cough Suppressant
If you enjoy the taste of honey, you’re in luck. “Hot liquids with honey can soothe and treat cough for short-term periods,” says Dr. Russell. Add honey and lemon to hot water or your favorite hot tea to taste (the lemon is just for flavor).
Honey right from the spoon is another low-cost cough home remedy with proven benefits. In a study published in the journal Pediatric Clinics of North America, coughing children age 2 and older with upper respiratory tract infections were given up to 2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime. Not only did the honey reduce nighttime coughing, it also improved sleep. Another study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that honey had modest benefits in reducing nocturnal cough in children ages 2–18. Russell says that you should never give honey to a child under 1 because it can sometimes cause botulism in babies.
- Suck on Lozenges or Hard Candy to Help Stimulate Saliva
Russell says that lozenges and hard candy can help you make more saliva or secretions in your mouth, which can help calm a cough. He also says that this is a great way to treat a dry cough. There is not a lot of scientific evidence to back up herbal lozenges like those containing zinc, vitamin C, and echinacea, notes Russell, but they may have modest benefits — even if it’s just a placebo effect — and none of them are harmful.
- Drink Fluids for Hydration and to Boost Your Immune System
Drinking fluids of all kinds, especially warm ones, like hot water, chicken soup, and tea, is another good home remedy for a cough, says Russell. “Many people who have a cough tend to get dehydrated,” he explains. In addition to hydration, fluids also help your immune system fight off the source of the infection or virus that may be causing your cough, and soothe the sore throat that is common with a cough, he adds.
- If you gargle, your cough might go away faster.
Have some table salt at home? Go ahead and add some to warm water and gargle with it. In a small study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, simple water gargling tended to weaken the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections (aka the common cold) and even prevent the infections from happening in the first place. In a pilot study published in January 2019 in Scientific Reports, gargling with warm salt water (along with nasal irrigation) was also been shown to have some benefits for improving cold symptoms and reducing the duration of symptoms like cough.
- Use a Humidifier or Take a Steamy Shower to Ease Congestion
If you’ve ever noticed your cough or congestion easing up as you enjoy a hot bath or shower, then you know the value of humidity for easing cold symptoms. You can create this simple cough remedy at home by taking a steamy shower or by using a cool mist humidifier. Humidifiers add moisture to the air, and cool-mist humidifiers may help ease coughing and congestion due to a cold, according to the Mayo Clinic. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s directions to keep your humidifier clean and avoid encouraging bacteria and mold.
- Chop up an onion to stop coughing (or So People Say)
People often start to cry as soon as they start to cut up an onion. Russell says there is no science behind the idea that the strong vapor an onion gives off when it is cut helps relieve a cough, but some people swear by it. Before you go to bed, cut an onion into quarters and leave it on a plate on your bedside table or at the foot of the bed. Although using onions may sound like nothing more than an old wives’ tale, Russell says it’s quite popular in Spain and France.
- Use Over-the-Counter Cough Medicine if Nothing Else Works
If you’ve tried other cough remedies and you’re contemplating the stash of cough and cold products in your medicine cabinet, read the labels first. “Studies have shown that people who take dextromethorphan may help reduce coughing a little bit more than those who take a fake medicine,” says Russell. Products that contain pseudoephedrine can help stop postnasal drip from a virus or allergies and may also reduce cough, he adds. But these medications have their limitations: Dextromethorphan is not safe for children under age 5, notes Russell, and pseudoephedrine tends to increase blood pressure and heart rate.
When it comes to nighttime cough medicines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), they typically contain an antihistamine that makes you feel sleepy, as well as helping to stop your cough. Benadryl may have side effects for people over age 65, such as reducing stability in the middle of the night. Russell advises trying natural remedies before turning to cough medicines, and then proceeding with caution.