From the cold and flu to allergies or acid reflux, there are many reasons why you may start coughing. Here are the non-medicine ways to help you stop.
Home remedies for a cough
A cough might be the first warning sign that, yep, you’re coming down with a cold or the flu. (Nooo!) But a cough can also be due to acid reflux, a battle with seasonal allergies, or bronchitis. “A cough is caused by an irritant that tickles your larynx, and your body is reacting by reflexively contracting muscles to expel it out,” explains Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
The reality is that a cough is more than just pesky. It takes a while to go away—and that’s totally normal. In fact, a cough sticks around for 18 days on average, according to a 2013 study in the Annals of Family Medicine. While many people turn to antibiotics in this instance, the meds are often ineffective. You don’t need them simply because you’ve been coughing for a couple weeks.
All the more important to look for other treatments to boost your immune system and help your body fight off what’s causing your coughing fits. That’s where natural coughing cures come in. That said, “if you’re coughing at night, can’t sleep, and are not getting better, see your physician. Don’t just keep trying remedy after remedy,” says Dr. Mendoza Temple. There may be another issue at play, like undiagnosed asthma.
Here, 11 natural remedies for a cough that really work. Relax, you’ll be breathing easy soon.
Hit the shower
When a cough crops up, take an extra-long shower. “Being in a hot shower is the best thing you can do,” says Dr. Mendoza Temple. “Stick yourself in there and let the steam soothe your breathing passages,” she says, adding that it helps reduce the over-excitement in your throat that stimulates hacking. It’s a great alternative when you’re trying to avoid giving kids (or yourself) cough medicine. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how long you have to stay in, but take your time. Step out and dry off when your cough starts to quiet down.
Use a neti pot
If your cough stems from allergies, your first step should be effectively treating those allergies and avoiding your triggers. One good option is a neti pot, which washes away pollen from the mucous membranes in your nasal passages, explains Dr. Mendoza Temple. Allergies get all the attention in spring, but they can be just as vicious in the fall—or even year-round if you have pet or dust allergies. “If you want to live with your pet, you have to remove the allergens from your nose,” she says. Filters that remove allergens from the air can also help. Take a shower after doing fall yard cleanup to rinse off any allergens.
Brew up bone broth
When you feel less than able to tackle your daily tasks, sip on bone broth or stock, recommends Termeh Feinberg, PhD, an herbal epidemiologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland School of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine. She makes hers at home and throws in other sickness- and cough-fighting foods, like antiviral thyme, immune-boosting shiitake mushrooms (keep the stems on!) and garlic, and antioxidant-rich lemon juice and turmeric, all added to taste. If making your own isn’t going to happen, buy high-quality boxed brands like Kettle & Fire Bone Broth. Then, doctor them up with these good-for-you veggies and herbs.
Try this throat coat
A scratchy, irritated throat needs a nice lubricant to prevent tickles that lead to hacking fits. Dr. Mendoza Temple recommends this concoction she learned from a colleague: Take local, raw honey and mix in cinnamon, turmeric, a bit of black pepper, and powdered ginger. Don’t worry about the amounts; just eyeball it. “When you mix it together it tastes like an Asian barbecue marinade,” she explains. Knock back a half-teaspoon or teaspoon at a time, allowing it to coat your throat. Not only is honey antiviral and antibacterial when it’s raw, but research has shown it suppresses nighttime coughing in children. The spices help shore up your immune system too.
Drink marshmallow tea
Warm tea and other hot liquids like soup are inherently soothing to an angry throat. “When you soothe the area, your body will stop trying to expel anything out,” says Dr. Mendoza Temple. Hence, sipping tea throughout the day can help suppress coughs. She says that you can use any tea that you like—important since that means you’re more apt to drink it regularly. But if you want something specific, go for slippery elm or marshmallow root tea. (Buy them separately or in teas labeled Throat Coat, which contain licorice root, slippery elm, and marshmallow root.) “These herbs are very soothing to the tissues they touch,” says Dr. Mendoza Temple.
Catch some z’s
Your mom would probably tell you to get some rest to get rid of your cough–and she’d be right. Sleep may not be a fancy herbal cure for a cough, but the basics are just as important. “Sleep helps the body accomplish what needs to be done in terms of [getting better],” says Feinberg.
Similarly, sipping water is another “mom” remedy you’re told constantly when you’re under the weather, and with good reason. Staying hydrated supports your system’s ability to eliminate pathogens or viruses. Plus, just like drinking tea or eating soup, water will soothe a dry, scratchy throat.
Knock back oregano oil
For those times when you get a little tickle in your throat and think Uh, oh, I’m getting sick, go for oregano oil. Dr. Mendoza Temple recommends this fix but fair warning: “It’s bitter and it burns.” Apply one drop to each side of your tongue and let it trickle back into your throat. Initially oregano oil might make you cough, but ultimately, it suppresses the hacking. The herb helps kill germs and flags the immune system to go after the area. “This has really helped prevent me from getting coughs and losing my voice. I have many patients that swear it works too,” she says.
Add eucalyptus oil
Just like a shower can do wonders for a cough, so can a steam treatment with eucalyptus oil. Fill your sink with very hot water and a few drops of eucalyptus oil, place a towel over your head, and put your head over the sink. Breathe deeply for 10 minutes. The eucalyptus oil will help break up nasal congestion, while the steam will moisturize a dry throat. (You can also put a few drops of the oil in a humidifier, says Dr. Mendoza Temple, but remember to clean out the unit per the manufacturer’s directions.)
Whip up another syrup
Before cold and flu season takes hold, stock up on a few herbs. Some good options: elderberry (it may have antiviral properties), chamomile (it’s an antispasmodic, meaning it stops your coughing reflex), mullein leaf (for its soothing abilities), and ginseng (to boost the body’s natural defenses against stressors, including illnesses). Feinberg throws about a tablespoon of these dry herbs into a tablespoon of honey and lets it steep over low heat on the stove. Then she strains the syrup through cheesecloth. You can take the liquid straight a few times per day or stir into a cup of tea.
Consider Oregon grape root
As soon as Feinberg feels a sore throat and gets a cough, she grabs an Oregon grape root tincture. “This botanical contains berberine, a phytochemical with anti-inflammatory properties,” she explains. You can squirt it in your mouth straight (“This isn’t for the faint of heart!” says Feinberg), or mix it in seltzer water, since the fizziness can also feel nice on a scratchy throat. HerbPharm is one brand that Feinberg recommends for buying high-quality, safely sourced herbal extracts.