What Can You Do for Cough Relief?

Most of us find coughs to be annoying, whether they’re ours or someone else’s. But coughing is the body’s way of keeping your throat and airways clear and they also help prevent infections, so they actually do good work.

Coughs can be acute (coming and going in less than three weeks) or chronic (sticking around for more than a few weeks).

Acute coughs commonly come with a cold, flu or acute bronchitis. Cough can be dry or wet.

Chronic coughs can come from chronic bronchitis, allergies, asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), smoking, throat disorders such as croup, a side effect of some medicines such as “ACE inhibitors” or acid reflux.

Finding Relief

Water is your first go-to remedy. Stay hydrated by drinking enough water. That’s good advice even when you don’t have a cough.

A warm shower or bath can provide temporary relief. A cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer can also help.

Honey is a natural alternative to cough medicines. Drinking tea or warm lemon water with honey can soothe a sore throat. A study found when children age 2 and older were given up to 2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime, it seemed to reduce nighttime coughing and help them sleep. Do not give children under age 1 honey due to the risk of infant botulism, a rare form of food poisoning.

What About Cough Medicine?

Cough medicines are usually used only when the cause of the cough is unknown and the cough causes a lot of discomfort.

Medicines can help control a cough and make it easier to cough up mucus. Your health care provider may recommend:

  • A cough suppressant (also called an antitussive). This medicine can help reduce the urge to cough.
  • An expectorant that may loosen mucus and make coughs more productive in clearing your airways.
  • A bronchodilator that can help relax your airways.

Don’t give children under age 4 cough medicine. For children over 4, read and follow cough medicine labels carefully.

If you have a condition such as emphysema, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis or asthma, ask your health care provider before using cough medicine.

If you have a cold or flu, antihistamines may work better than over-the-counter cough medicines.

Cough drops, throat lozenges or even hard candy can sometimes help relieve a tickle in your throat. Don’t give cough drops to children younger than age 4.

If you have a cough as a side effect from a medication such as an ACE inhibitor, your doctor can switch your medicine.

A cough that’s due to acid reflux can be treated with medicine to reduce or block stomach acid. You may also want to talk with your provider about lifestyle changes that can reduce the discomfort of acid reflux.

How About Antibiotics for Stopping a Cough?

Antibiotics usually aren’t used to stop coughs. Most coughs are caused by viral infections such as a cold or flu. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as a sinus infection or pneumonia.

When Should I Call the Doctor About a Cough?

Call your health care provider if:

  • Your cough lasts more than seven days without improvement.
  • You have a deep cough with lots of mucus or blood in the mucus.
  • You’re wheezing, short of breath or have a tight chest.
  • You have a fever that doesn’t go away after three days.
  • Your child has chills or nighttime coughing fits.

Your health care provider may ask questions to determine if your cough might be a medication side effect, caused by a condition such as acid reflux, be a sign of whooping cough or another health issue.

Smoking also causes coughing, especially in the morning. Smoke can irritate the airways and cause inflammation that can turn into chronic bronchitis. If you quit smoking and your cough continues for a month, see your health care provider.

Meet the Author

Tatiana Petrikova, MD is a Family Medicine physician at Aurora Wilkinson Medical Clinic in Summit, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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