Coughing is a common reflex action that occurs when mucus drains down into your air passages. It helps clear your airways of irritants and mucus.
According to a 2015 study published in Lung India, coughing can be a warning sign of several respiratory and non-respiratory diseases and is one of the most common reasons for adults seeking medical treatment (1).
Basically, there are two types of coughs: productive and nonproductive. While a productive cough produces phlegm or mucus, clearing it from the lungs, a nonproductive cough (dry cough) doesn’t produce phlegm or mucus.
A dry cough poses a great diagnostic and management challenges, due to myriad etiologies and its many possible causes.
Some common causes of dry cough are asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), postnasal drip and some kind of viral infection.
Other less common causes of a dry cough are environmental irritants like smoke, pollution, dust, mold and pollen that can irritate your airways; living in a dry climate; use of ACE inhibitors; whooping cough; collapsed lung; and even lung cancer in some cases.
Regardless of the cause, an ongoing dry cough can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life. It can make it especially difficult to enjoy sound sleep at night.
To treat a dry cough, there are many over-the-counter and prescription drugs available, but they come with a lot of side effects. You can get rid of your persistent and dry cough with some effective cough remedies.
Caution: Always seek emergency medical help if you are having trouble breathing or are coughing up blood.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for a dry cough.
Honey is a very effective natural cure for a dry cough.
According to a 2007 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, parents rated honey as more effective for a cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infections than over-the-counter medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant (2).
Honey triggers the salivary glands to produce more saliva, which in turn lubricates your airways, easing your cough. It also has antioxidant properties that fight inflammation and boost immunity.
- Mix equal amounts of raw honey, ginger juice and pomegranate juice. Consume 1 tablespoon of this mixture 2 or 3 times a day.
- Alternatively, add 1 tablespoon of honey to a cup of hot water or herbal tea and drink it twice daily.
Caution: Do not give honey to children younger than age 1 because of an increased risk of botulism.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Another simple, yet effective home remedy for an irritating dry cough is raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. This remedy is very effective if your dry cough is caused by heartburn or acid reflux.
- Tonic: Mix 2 tablespoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of raw honey into a cup of warm water. Drink this tonic twice daily.
- Steam inhalation: Mix together ½ cup each of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and water. Bring the mixture to a boil and remove it from the stove. Put a towel over your head and inhale the steam for 3 to 5 minutes through your nose with your mouth and eyes closed. Repeat a few times a day.
- Gargle: Mix 3 teaspoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper into a cup of warm water and stir well. Use the mixture to gargle 2 or 3 times a day to get relief from a dry, continuous cough.
3. Steam Inhalation
Inhaling steam helps reduce inflammation in your respiratory tract and this helps in the treatment of a dry cough. It also aids in mucus drainage.
You can add a few drops of an essential oil of your choice to the water to increase the antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Boil enough water to fit in a medium-sized bowl.
- Pour the water into the bowl.
- Add 8 to 10 drops of essential oils to it.
- Give it a quick stir to release the vapors.
- Cover your head with a towel and lean over the bowl to inhale the steam.
- Do this for 5 to 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day.
Also, a hot shower can help a cough by loosening secretions in the nose.
4. Salt Water Gargle
Another popular remedy for a dry cough is gargling with salt water.
Salt water eases the discomfort caused by a cough and helps a sore throat-through osmosis. It helps dislodge any phlegm that’s hanging out and allows you to expel it easily.
The warm water also has a soothing effect on the throat.
- Add ½ teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of warm water.
- Stir it until the salt mixes in properly.
- Gargle with this solution for a few seconds, then spit it out.
- Do this at 2 or 3 times a day for a few days.
Ginger is also effective for a dry cough. Being an expectorant, it helps you expel any mucus and phlegm as well as reducing the intensity and duration of coughing bouts. It also helps reduce airway inflammation and inhibit airway contraction.
Moreover, it has immune-boosting properties that help promote quick recovery.
- Cut fresh ginger into small slices and crush them slightly. Put 1 teaspoon of the slices and 1 cup of water in a pan and bring it to a boil, then strain it. Drink it up to 3 times a day.
- Alternatively, mix together 1 tablespoon each of freshly extracted ginger juice and raw honey. Take this twice daily for a few days.
- Another option is to chew fresh raw ginger on and off throughout the day.
Licorice works as an expectorant and demulcent, thus helping soothe your airways while loosening and thinning the mucus, easing a dry cough.
Its anti-inflammatory properties also help reduce irritation in the throat that causes coughing fits.
- Add 2 tablespoons of licorice root to a cup of hot water. Cover and let it steep for 10 minutes. Drink this tea up to 2 times daily.
- You can also mix ½ teaspoon of licorice powder with a little honey and have it twice daily for a few days.
- To soothe a dry cough, you can also suck on some licorice candies.
7. Fluid Intake
To soothe a dry cough, you need to increase your fluid intake.
Drinking more water helps thin out the mucus and keeps the mucous membranes moist. This is particularly helpful if you live in a dry climate.
Experts recommend drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water a day for optimum health. When you have a dry cough, drink about 2 glasses more than your usual daily water intake until your symptoms subside.
However, you must avoid cold water. Opt for clear broth or warm lemon water, green tea or warm milk. At the same time, avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration.
8. Moist Air
Humidifiers may also help with a dry cough. In a dry environment, nasal secretions can become dried out and uncomfortable, which can worsen the symptoms.
By putting moisture back in the air, you can reduce the discomforts. Moist air helps ease breathing and lessens the intensity of coughing fits, especially when you’re sleeping at night.
- Use a humidifier wherever possible in your home and especially in the room where you sleep. For best results, add essential oil to the water to further calm a cough.
- Another option is to place a bowl of hot water in the room to increase the moisture in the air. You can also place a pot of water on the radiator in your room.
Whether you are using a humidifier or a bowl of hot water, be sure to place it in a safe place to prevent accidents.
9. Avoid Irritants
Environmental and other irritants are one of the main causes of a dry cough, and avoiding the irritants is a must if you wish to treat a dry cough naturally.
The worst irritant that causes a dry cough is, of course, smoke. The harmful smoke from cigarettes may cause airway irritation. Almost all smokers suffer from this irritating problem from time to time. So, stop smoking and avoid places where you get exposed to secondhand smoke.
At the same time, you need to avoid dust and other pollutants in the air. You may wear a face mask when you have no choice but to be in the presence of such irritants.
Also, look out for perfumes and scented bathroom sprays that may cause sinus irritation and lead to a dry cough.
10. Sleep Upright
If your dry cough is more persistent during the night when you’re trying to sleep, try keeping your upper body in an upright position while sleeping.
Keeping yourself in an upright position can help make breathing easier and relieve a dry cough. On the other hand, lying flat can lead to coughing fits, which will only aggravate the condition.
Also, it can help ease a dry cough due to acid reflux. A completely flat posture can give way to acid reflux, triggering a cough.
To keep yourself elevated while sleeping, place a high pillow under the mattress.
- No matter what, avoid giving cold and cough medicine to children under age 4, as they can cause serious side effects in young children.
- If a dry cough is due to some underlying medical problem like allergies, asthma or acid reflux, you need to treat that problem.
- Eat homemade chicken soup to soothe a dry cough.
- If possible, stay home and rest if you have a fever or a bad cough.
- Avoid exposure to cold, as it can worsen the condition.
- Cover your mouth while coughing and wash your hands often.
- When going out, wear a mask.
- Include vitamin C-rich foods in your diet to shorten the duration of a cough.
- If you have pets, regularly bathe or groom them to reduce the amount of dander in your surroundings.
- Chronic dry cough: Diagnostic and management approaches. Lung India. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4298918. Published 2015.
- Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18056558. Published December 2007.