Relieving a Cough


Coughing is your body's way of removing foreign substances and mucus from your lungs and upper airway passages. Productive coughs are often useful. Don't try to stop a productive cough. Sometimes, though, coughs are severe enough to impair breathing or prevent rest. Here are some things you can do at home to help you feel more comfortable when you have a cough.

  • Prevent dehydration.

    Fluids may help thin mucus and soothe an irritated throat. Honey or lemon juice in hot water or tea may help a dry, hacking cough.

  • Gargle.

    Try gargling with warm salt water to help ease a sore throat caused by coughing.

  • Prop up your head with extra pillows at night.

    This can help ease a dry cough.

  • Try a cough drop to soothe an irritated throat.

    Medicine-flavored cough drops are no better than candy-flavored drops or hard candy. Most cough drops have no effect on the cough-producing process.

  • Try moist air.

    Try a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the room. Warm or cool mist may help relieve symptoms. Follow all cleaning instructions and precautions for the machine.

  • Stay away from tobacco.
    • Don't smoke or use other forms of tobacco, especially while you have a cough.
  • Avoid exposure to inhaled irritants.
    • Stay away from smoke, dust, and other pollutants.
    • Wear a face mask that is the right kind for the exposure. Many kinds of face masks are available. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out which type of face mask will help most.
  • Think about using cough medicine, which may help your cough.

    Avoid cold remedies that combine medicines to treat many symptoms. In most cases, it's better to treat each symptom separately. There are two kinds of cough medicines: expectorants and suppressants.

  • Try an expectorant for a productive cough.
    • Expectorants thin mucus. They make it easier to cough up mucus when you have a productive cough.
    • Use an expectorant if you have a cough that produces thick mucus and you are having trouble coughing up the mucus.
    • Don't use just an expectorant to thin the mucus. Drink plenty of water too.
  • Try a cough suppressant for a dry, hacking cough that keeps you awake.
    • Use cough suppressants such as Delsym, Mucinex DM, or Robitussin wisely. Don't suppress a productive cough too much, unless it's keeping you from getting enough rest. Coughing is useful. It brings up mucus from the lungs and helps prevent bacterial infections. People with asthma and other lung diseases need to cough.
    • If an over-the-counter medicine doesn't help, ask your doctor if there is another cough suppressant you can try.
  • Be aware of cough medicine precautions.
    • Read the package carefully or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose a cough medicine. These medicines can cause problems for people with other health problems, such as asthma, heart failure, high blood pressure, glaucoma, or an enlarged prostate. They may also interact with other medicines, such as sedatives and certain antidepressants.
    • Read the label so you know what ingredients you are taking. Some cough medicines contain a large percentage of alcohol. Others contain codeine. Don't give codeine to children younger than age 18. There are many choices. Ask your pharmacist to advise you.
    • Use cough medicines with caution if you are older than 60 or if you have chronic breathing problems.
    • Keep them out of the reach of children to prevent accidental use.
    • Don't take someone else's prescription cough medicine.
    • Watch how much you use. Some of these medicines can cause problems if you use too much.


Current as of: September 27, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.