Coughs play a role in clearing irritants and infections from the body, but persistent coughing can be annoying. The best treatment for a cough will depend on its underlying cause. There are many possible causes of coughs, including allergies, infections, and acid reflux.
Some natural remedies may help to relieve a cough. However, it is important to remember that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor herbs and supplements, so people who use them may be at risk of using low-quality products and impurities.
People who want to use natural remedies to treat their cough should research sources and brands. They should also be aware that some herbs and supplements can interfere with medications, which may result in unwanted side effects.
If a cough is severe or persists for more than a few weeks, it is essential to seek medical advice.
Natural cough remedies
People use a range of natural remedies to try to treat a persistent cough.
1. Honey tea
A popular home remedy for coughs is mixing honey with warm water.
According to some research, honey may relieve coughs.
A study on treatments for nighttime coughing in children compared dark honey with the cough-suppressing medication dextromethorphan and with no treatment.
The researchers reported that honey provided the most significant relief from coughing, followed by dextromethorphan.
Although the benefits of honey over dextromethorphan were small, parents rated honey most favorably of all three interventions.
To use honey to treat a cough, mix 2 teaspoons (tsp) with warm water or an herbal tea. Drink this mixture once or twice a day. Do not give honey to children under 1 year of age.
Ginger may ease a dry or asthmatic cough, as it has anti-inflammatory properties. It may also relieve nausea and pain.
One study suggests that some anti-inflammatory compounds in ginger can relax membranes in the airways, which could reduce coughing. The researchers mainly studied the effects of ginger on human cells and animals, so more research is necessary.
Brew up a soothing ginger tea by adding 20–40 grams (g) of fresh ginger slices to a cup of hot water. Allow to steep for a few minutes before drinking. Add honey or lemon juice to improve the taste and further soothe a cough.
Be aware that, in some cases, ginger tea can cause stomach upset or heartburn.
Staying hydrated is vital for those with a cough or cold. Research indicates that drinking liquids at room temperature can alleviate a cough, runny nose, and sneezing.
However, people with additional symptoms of a cold or flu may benefit from warming up their beverages. The same study reports that hot beverages alleviate even more symptoms, including a sore throat, chills, and fatigue.
The symptom relief was immediate and remained for a continued period after finishing the hot beverage.
A wet cough, which is one that produces mucus or phlegm, may improve with steam. Take a hot shower or bath and allow the bathroom to fill with steam. Stay in this steam for a few minutes until symptoms subside. Drink a glass of water afterward to cool down and prevent dehydration.
Alternatively, make a steam bowl. To do this, fill a large bowl with hot water. Add herbs or essential oils, such as eucalyptus or rosemary, which may also relieve decongestion. Lean over the bowl and place a towel over the head. This traps the steam. Inhale the vapors for 5 minutes. If the steam feels hot on the skin, discontinue until the skin cools down.
People with a wet cough or chest congestion may also wish to follow the recommendations of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and use a cool-mist humidifier or steam vaporizer in their home.
5. Marshmallow root
Marshmallow root is an herb that has a long history of use as a treatment for coughs and sore throats. The herb can ease irritation resulting from coughing because of its high mucilage content. Mucilage is a thick, gluey substance that coats the throat.
One small study revealed that an herbal cough syrup containing marshmallow root, along with thyme and ivy, effectively relieved coughs resulting from common colds and respiratory tract infections. After 12 days of taking the syrup, 90 percent of the participants rated its effectiveness as good or very good.
Marshmallow root is also available as a dried herb or a bagged tea. Add hot water to either and then drink it immediately or allow it to cool first. The longer the marshmallow root steeps in the water, the more mucilage will be in the drink.
Side effects can include stomach upset, but it may be possible to counter this by drinking extra fluids.
Marshmallow root is available to purchase in health stores or online.
6. Salt-water gargle
This simple remedy is one of the most effective for treating a sore throat and wet cough. Saltwater reduces phlegm and mucus in the back of the throat which can lessen the need to cough.
Stir half a teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water until it dissolves. Allow the solution to cool slightly before using it to gargle. Let the mixture sit at the back of the throat for a few moments before spitting it out. Gargle with salt water several times each day until the cough improves.
Avoid giving salt water to younger children as they may not be able to gargle properly, and swallowing salt water can be dangerous.
Pineapples contain bromelain, which may help to treat a cough.
Bromelain is an enzyme that comes from pineapples. It is most plentiful in the core of the fruit.
Bromelain has anti-inflammatory properties and may also have mucolytic properties, which means that it can break down mucus and remove it from the body.
Some people drink pineapple juice daily to reduce mucus in the throat and suppress coughing. However, there may not be enough bromelain in the juice to relieve symptoms.
Bromelain supplements are available and may be more effective at relieving a cough. However, it is best to speak with a doctor before trying any new supplements.
It is possible to be allergic to bromelain, and this herb can also cause side effects and interact with medications. People who take blood thinners or specific antibiotics should not take bromelain.