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Coughs - Home Treatment

Coughing is your body's way of removing foreign substances and mucus from your lungs and upper airway passages camera.gif. Productive coughs are often useful, and you should not try to eliminate them. Sometimes, though, coughs are severe enough to impair breathing or prevent rest. Home treatment can help you feel more comfortable when you have a cough.

Home treatment for adults

  • Prevent dehydration. Fluids may help thin secretions and soothe an irritated throat. Dry, hacking coughs respond to honey in hot water, tea, or lemon juice.
  • Elevate your head with extra pillows at night to ease a dry cough.
  • Try a cough drop to soothe an irritated throat. Expensive medicine-flavored cough drops are no better than inexpensive candy-flavored drops or hard candy. Most cough drops have no effect on the cough-producing process.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Use only water in the humidifier.
  • Quit smoking and do not use other forms of tobacco, especially while you have a cough. For more information on quitting smoking, 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. Many kinds of face masks are available. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to determine which type of face mask will provide you with the most benefit.
  • If you suspect problems with stomach acid may be contributing to your cough, see the topic Heartburn.

Cough preparations may help your cough. 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 help thin the mucus and make it easier to cough mucus up when you have a productive cough.
    • Use an expectorant if you have a cough that produces thick mucus and you are having trouble coughing the mucus up. Don't depend entirely on an expectorant to thin the mucus. Drink plenty of water also.
    • Look for expectorants containing guaifenesin, such as Robitussin, Mucinex, and Vicks 44E.
  • Suppressants control or suppress the cough reflex and work best for a dry, hacking cough that keeps you awake.
    • 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 prevent bacterial infections. People with asthma and other lung diseases need to cough.
    • If you have a dry, hacking cough, ask your doctor about an effective cough suppressant medicine.
    • Look for suppressant medicines containing dextromethorphan, such as Robitussin-DM or Vicks Dry Hacking Cough. Studies show that over-the-counter cough medicines do not work very well. And some of these medicines can cause problems if you use too much of them. It is important to use medicines correctly and to keep them out of the reach of children to prevent accidental use.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 09, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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