What causes coughing?
A cough is a reflex that helps clear your airways of irritants. Nerves in the
airways become stimulated by allergens, medical conditions, medications, and
other irritants, resulting in a forceful expulsion of air from the lungs.
There are numerous causes for coughing. Common causes of
pollen, dust, animal dander,
smoking, inhaling secondhand
smoke, pollution, chemical fumes, perfumes, air fresheners
- Medical conditions:
respiratory tract infection,
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sinus infections,
bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary
- A dry cough is usually the result of cold and flu viruses,
reflux, ACE inhibitor medications, and irritants such as
- A wet
cough is often caused by cold or flu viruses, or chronic obstructive pulmonary
- A persistent, or chronic, cough is one that lasts more than 3
weeks and may be caused by
asthma, lung disease,
Is a Cough Contagious?
Not all coughs are "contagious." Knowing the type
of cough you have will help in finding the underlying cause (infectious or noninfectious).
Which of the following causes of a cough do you think are contagious?
- Secondhand smoke
- Post-nasal drip
- Sore throat
- Strep throat
19 natrual and home remedies to cure and soothe a cough
Once the cause of your cough is diagnosed and you have ruled out any serious
underlying medical conditions that need to be treated, symptoms of cough often
may be treated or cured with home remedies. Talk to your doctor before using
any herbal remedies or
natural supplements as some may interact with medications
- Stay hydrated: Drink lots of water to
- Inhale steam: Take a hot shower, or boil water and pour into a bowl, face the bowl
(stay at least 1 foot away),
place a towel over the back of your head to form a tent and inhale. Stop at any
time if you feel uncomfortable. Note: do not do this if cough is due to
as steam may make symptoms worse.
- Use a humidifier to loosen mucus.
- Cough drops or lozenges soothe an
irritated throat (do not use in young children).
- Saltwater gargle clears mucus from the
- Use an extra pillow to elevate your head
- Don't smoke and avoid
- Avoid inhaled irritants such as dust,
perfumes, or pollutants.
- Use honey. It can be used alone in adults
and children over 1 year of age, and acts as a
Ginger tea soothes throat
- Eucalyptus oil: Use it in a vaporizer or
rub on your chest to help break up mucus.
- Mint: Often taken as a tea, it helps
loosen mucus in the lungs.
- Menthol is commonly found in lozenges, and
it can soothe a cough.
Licorice root acts as an
- Slippery elm coats and soothes the throat.
- Apple cider vinegar (diluted or mixed
with honey) helps thin mucus.
- Turmeric may help ease digestive
problems and can help if cough is caused by
- Chicken soup may ease symptoms of
upper respiratory tract infections.
- And because we saved the best for last...save some
chocolate! Theobromide, and ingredient in chocolate, may actually
suppress vagus nerve activity that causes coughing.
What over-the-counter (OTC) products cure or soothe a cough?
There are a number of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines available to
soothe or cure coughs. There are two main types of cough medicines, 1) cough
suppressants, and 2) expectorants. These can be found in tablet or cough syrup form.
- Cough suppressants, also called antitussives, block the cough reflex to
relieve cough. A common OTC cough suppressant is dextromethorphan, which can be
found in products such as
- Triaminic Cold and Cough,
- Robitussin Cough,
- Vicks 44 Cough and Cold.
- Expectorants work by thinning mucus. The only OTC expectorant is guaifenesin,
found in products such as Mucinex and Robitussin Chest Congestion.
Combinations (cough suppressants and expectorants)
- Dextromethorphan and guaifenesin are often found in combination products, for
example, combined with each other in Robitussin DM. These medications also may
be combined with other medicines that help relieve other symptoms of colds such
as pain relievers, decongestants, or antihistamines. If your main symptom is
cough, it usually is best to avoid products that contain antihistamines, such as
diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or decongestants, such as ephedrine (Sudafed)
these have a drying effect, making mucus thicker and harder to clear from your
airways, which can worsen cough symptoms.
Other OTC cough medicine
- For cough due to postnasal drip, decongestants such as pseudoephedrine
(Sudafed) or antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may improve
- Cough that is a result of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may be
What prescription drugs cure a cough?
When cough is severe, over-the-counter (OTC) medications and home remedies
may not be enough to relieve symptoms, and prescriptions may be needed.
- Codeine and other narcotic medications are often prescribed as effective
cough suppressants. Many times these are combined with the cough suppressant
dextromethorphan, or the expectorant guaifenesin.
- If cough is due to whooping cough,
bacterial pneumonia, complicated
bronchitis, or sinusitis it is usually treated with antibiotics such as
penicillin, cephalosporins, or azithromycin (Zithromax).
- For cough due to allergies, such as hay fever, inhaled nasal steroids may be
- For postnasal drip that does not respond to OTC drugs, nasal inhalers such as
ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) can help.
- If cough is a result of asthma, prescription inhaled bronchodilators and
inhaled steroids help decrease inflammation of the airways. Short-term oral
steroids, which help reduce inflammation, are sometimes prescribed to relieve
- When gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes a cough, prescription
medications that may help symptoms include proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), for
How can I get rid of a nighttime cough?
Many times cough symptoms will worsen at night. This may be due to postnasal
drip (from a cold, bronchitis, or allergies) or acid from the stomach backing up
into your throat from acid reflux. There are some strategies and home remedies
you can use to help ease nighttime cough:
- Use extra pillows for postnasal drip or
if you have acid reflux to prop up the head of your bed. When you lay flat, the
mucus or acid reflux irritates your throat. Raising your head allows it to
- Take a steamy shower before bed (note:
if your cough is due to asthma, steam may make it worse).
- Use a humidifier. Moist air can help
relieve cough. However, if cough is due to allergies such as dust mites or mold,
which thrive in damp air, be careful not to make the room too moist.
- Keep your bedding clean. If your cough
is due to allergies, it is important to make sure dust mites don't have a place
to sleep as well. Wash all bedding at least weekly in hot water, and dry in a
dryer, not a clothesline.
- Drink decaffeinated tea with honey
before bed. The warmth of the tea will soothe a sore throat and the fluid will
help thin secretions. Herbal teas with ginger, peppermint, or licorice root may
also soothe cough.
- Use a vapor rub, such as one with
menthol, to help open airways.
- Keep everything you need near your bed.
If you have a cough, make sure you keep your cough medicine, lozenges, a glass
of water, or anything else that helps you, on your nightstand for immediate
- Don't smoke.
- Avoid using perfume, air freshener
sprays, or other irritants in the bedroom.
- Try (OTC) cough
medicines that contain cough suppressants (which block the cough reflex) or
expectorants (which loosen mucus). Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a
What kind of a doctor treats a cough?
Your primary care provider (PCP) such as a family practitioner, internal
medicine specialist, or pediatrician may diagnose and treat a cough. If cough is
severe an emergency medicine specialist may see you in a hospital's emergency
People suffering from chronic or persistent cough may be referred to
different specialists depending on the underlying cause. If you have allergies,
you may be referred to an allergist. If your cough is due to gastroesophageal
reflux disorder (GERD) you may be referred to a gastroenterologist, who
specializes in diseases of the digestive tract. If you have lung disease you may
need to see a pulmonologist, a lung specialist who treats diseases of the
airways. If your cough is due to an underlying heart condition, you will be
referred to a cardiologist, a specialist in diseases of the heart and
When should I see a doctor about a cough?
Cough often is not serious, but in some situations you should see a doctor
and not try to treat the cough on your own. If you have a cough and the
following symptoms, see your doctor:
These signs and symptoms in addition to cough may indicate a more serious
condition that needs treatment by a doctor.
Medically Reviewed on 5/25/2016
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Cough Medicine: Understanding Your OTC Options." Updated Oct 2013.
American Academy of Pediatrics. "Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?" Updated Jul 13, 2015.
Harvard Health Publications. "That nagging cough. 27 August 2015." Updated May 17, 2016.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "What Causes Cough?" Updated Oct 1, 2010.
Science Daily. "New Study Supports Chicken Soup As A Cold Remedy." Oct 19, 2000.
University of Maryland Medical Center. "Licorice." Updated Feb 2, 2016.
University of Maryland Medical Center. "Eucalyptus." Updated Apr 29, 2015.
University of Maryland Medical Center. "Slippery elm." Updated Jul 6, 2014.
University of Maryland Medical Center. "Turmeric." Jun 26, 2014.
New Scientist. "Persistent coughs melt away with chocolate." Nov 22, 2004.