Coughing is your body's way of getting foreign substances and
mucus out of your
lungs and upper airway passages . Coughs are often useful, and you should not try
to stop them. Sometimes, though, coughs are severe enough to make
breathing difficult, cause vomiting, or prevent rest. Home treatment can help
you feel more comfortable when you have a cough.
- Drink fluids to keep from getting dehydrated. Water may help loosen mucus and
soothe an irritated throat. Dry, hacking coughs may respond to honey in hot water,
tea, or lemon juice. Do not give honey to children younger than 1 year of
- Elevate your head with extra pillows at night to ease a dry
- Try a cough drop to soothe an irritated throat. Expensive
medicine-flavored cough drops are not any better than inexpensive
candy-flavored ones or hard candy. Most cough drops have no effect on the
- Quit smoking. For more information, see
the topic Quitting Smoking.
- Avoid exposure to inhaled
irritants, such as smoke, dust, or other pollutants, or wear a face mask that
is appropriate for the exposure. There are many kinds of face masks. Check with
your doctor or pharmacist to find out which types will give you
the most benefit.
There is not
enough evidence to determine whether cough medicines work.1 But some people may find them useful. Avoid cold
remedies that combine medicines to treat many symptoms. It is generally
better to treat each symptom separately. There are two kinds of cough
medicines: expectorants and suppressants.
- Expectorants may 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 difficulty coughing up the mucus.
- Look for expectorants containing guaifenesin.
- Suppressants may control or
suppress the cough reflex and work best for a dry, hacking cough that keeps you
- Use cough suppressants wisely. Don't suppress
a productive cough too much, unless it is keeping you from getting enough rest.
Coughing is useful, because it brings up mucus from the lungs and helps to
prevent bacterial infections.
- If you have a dry, hacking cough
that does not bring anything up, ask your doctor about an
effective cough suppressant medicine.
- Look for suppressant
medicines containing dextromethorphan.
If you have sore muscles from coughing a lot, have someone massage
your chest and back muscles a few times each day. Massage can reduce soreness
and help you rest and relax better.
Cough medicine precautions
- Cough medicines may cause
- Cough medicines can cause problems for people who have
other health conditions, such as
high blood pressure,
glaucoma, or an
enlarged prostate. Cough preparations may also
interact with other medicines, such as sedatives and certain antidepressants.
Read the package carefully or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose
- Use them with caution if you give them to an older adult or if
you have chronic respiratory problems.
- Read the label so you know
what the ingredients are. Some cough medicines contain a large percentage of
alcohol. Others contain codeine. There are many choices. Ask your pharmacist to
- Do not take someone else's prescription cough medicine.
- Cough and cold medicines may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight.
For more information about medicine safety, see the topics Over-the-Counter Medicine Precautions and Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children.