10 Home Remedies for Dry Cough

In cases when a dry cough is mild and uncomplicated (meaning without fever, chest pain, or any other concerning symptoms), it may be reasonable to treat it with a home remedy rather than an over-the-counter cough medication. Some home remedies often used for dry cough include raw honey, licorice root, and saltwater gargling.

Many of these have been passed down from one generation to the next. Despite this and claims of effectiveness, there is often little more than anecdotal evidence to support their use. Some scientific backing exists for a few home remedies for dry cough, however, and those options are generally considered safe for short-term use.

Raw Honey

Raw honey is one of the oldest home remedies to treat any type of cough. Not only does it coat the throat, but honey also has natural anti-inflammatory properties that may help ease throat irritation. Its antimicrobial effects can also potentially temper minor bacterial or viral infections.

A 2018 review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that honey was as effective as diphenhydramine (used in Benadryl Cough) but not as effective as dextromethorphan (used in products like Delsym Cough).

Honey is well-tolerated and generally welcome by younger children. However, it should never be given to babies under 1 year of age due to rare but serious illness called infant botulism. Honey also affects blood sugar, so other options may be better for those working to manage glucose levels.

Steam Inhalation

Breathing in steam is a home remedy that most people are familiar with (often with the addition of a mentholated product like Vicks Vapo-Rub). Even without an additive, warm steam can help moisturize dry and irritated nasal passages, ease throat pain, and reduce the severity of cough caused by mild infection or allergy.

Some natural additives like holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) are reportedly better than plain steam at treating coughs caused by cold, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, asthma, and allergies.

As you breathe in the steam, drape a towel over your head to improve the moisture intake. Avoid placing your face over a pot of boiling water as it may cause a severe burn.

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Licorice Root

Sipping tea made from licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has long been touted for its soothing effect on the throat. Referred to as gancao in traditional Chinese medicine, licorice root has been used since 2100 B.C. and is said to alleviate pain, clear phlegm, and ease cough.

Licorice root tea can be found in many grocery and health food stores. Dried licorice root can be purchased online and used to make tea by steeping 2 tablespoons of the shaved root in 8 ounces of boiling water for five to 10 minutes.

Though licorice root tea is generally considered safe, prolonged use may cause severe increases in blood pressure and lead to menstrual irregularity, fatigue, headaches, water retention, and erectile dysfunction.

Saltwater

Gargling with saltwater is something that doctors will often recommend to ease a sore throat caused by the common cold. Saltwater is osmotic, meaning that it changes the direction fluid moves. In the throat, saltwater draws moisture away from the area of soreness and, in doing so, helps reduce swelling and irritation.

According to a 2019 randomized controlled study in Scientific Reports, gargling thrice daily with salt reduced the duration of cough caused by cold by 2.4 days and vocal hoarseness by 1.7 days.

Marjoram

Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is a type of oregano that has long been used in traditional medicine to relieve a wide range of health conditions. It contains ample quantities of anti-inflammatory plant-based compounds (phytochemicals) that may help ease cough associated with asthma, bronchitis, colds, and pertussis (whooping cough).

To make marjoram tea, steep 3 to 4 teaspoons of dried marjoram in 8 ounces of hot water and sip three times daily.

Marjoram is generally considered safe but may slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bruising and nosebleeds in people on anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drugs.

Marshmallow Root

Marshmallow root, as per its name, is the root of the marshmallow plant (Althea officinalis), a type of flowering hollyhock.

Marshmallow root has been used since ancient times to relieve sore throats, often as a sweetened, meringue-like confection. Its slightly gooey consistency can coat sore and irritated throats, while flavonoids in the root are said to relieve inflammation.

A 2018 study in Complementary Medicine Research reported that syrups and lozenges made with marshmallow root extract helped relieve mild dry cough in 822 users, usually within 10 minutes.

Marshmallow root tea can be purchased online and in some specialty health food stores. It is generally considered safe, although little research has been conducted to assess its long-term safety. The plant may interfere with blood clotting and affect blood sugar.

Thyme

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has been used medicinally since the Black Plague in Europe. It contains a compound called thymol that is believed to have antispasmodic effects that can help relax the smooth muscles of the throat.

When consumed as a tea, thyme is likely safe for occasional use. You can make a thyme tea by infusing 3 to 4 teaspoons of the dried herb in 8 ounces of boiling water. Sweeten with honey for an added cough-relieving benefit.

Thyme essential oil, typically used in aromatherapy, should not be taken internally as it can cause a potentially serious drop in blood pressure.

Turmeric

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) contains a compound called curcumin that has mild antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and is said to treat everything from arthritis to respiratory disease. Most of these claims are poorly supported by research, however.

Some researchers have suggested that turmeric taken orally may ease cough and other symptoms of asthma. Whether doing so can treat acute coughs is unclear given that their study involved 500-milligram (mg) oral doses taken over a period of 30 days.

With that said, turmeric tea can be found in many grocery stores and is generally well-tolerated. Tumeric capsules are another matter, with the overuse of the supplement likely to cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and nausea.

Ginger

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has long been used to treat nausea and upset stomach, but there is evidence that it can also suppress the cough reflex by relaxing the smooth muscles of the airways.

A 2013 review of studies from Columbia University reported that gingerol, a chemical compound in fresh ginger, is able to suppress airway hyperresponsiveness that can trigger symptoms of asthma—including cough. It not only appears to do so when taken orally (such as with tea or by sucking on candied ginger), but also when it is inhaled in steam.

It is important to avoid consuming too much ginger, however, as it may cause stomach upset, heartburn, or diarrhea.

Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum), like turmeric, also has mild antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Taking garlic on a regular basis is also said to lower blood pressure and boost the immune system.

Garlic is purported to relieve cough associated with the common cold, although most studies investigating the effect have been mixed. A 2014 review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews could find no benefit in using garlic to prevent or treat cold or cold symptoms in any of the eight reviewed studies.

With that said, garlic is generally considered safe.

Dry Cough Prevention

As much as there are things you can do to treat dry cough, there are also things you can do to avoid them in the first place. In some cases, there may be preventive treatments that can alleviate or control the underlying cause of a cough or changes you can make seasonally to reduce your risk of coughs.

Among the considerations:

  • Seasonal allergies: If you have severe seasonal hay fever, talk to your doctor about taking a preventive, daily oral antihistamine when pollen and mold counts begin to climb.
  • Respiratory allergies: Avoid foods high in histamine if you are prone to respiratory allergy symptoms. These include alcohol, pickled foods, matured cheese, shellfish, smoked meat, chocolate, dried fruit, and strawberries.
  • Dry air: Use a cool-mist humidifier if coughing tends to develop in dry weather, especially at night.
  • Allergens: Get an air purifier to help clear allergens and irritants from the air, including dust, dander, and pollen.
  • Asthma: If your cough is asthma-related, adherence to your asthma medications (including long-acting bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids) can reduce the incidence of attacks.
  • Acid reflux: If dealing with acid reflux, avoid high-fat food, acidic foods (including tomatoes), chocolate, caffeine, and spicy foods.
  • Smoking: Do not smoke. Exposure to smoke fumes only increases throat irritation. Vaping and smoking marijuana are also irritating.

When to See a Doctor

Dry cough can be caused by any number of things, including allergies, environmental irritants, infections, and even certain drugs (like ACE inhibitors). In some cases, there may no known cause.

But a chronic cough may also be an early sign of a potentially serious health condition, ranging from sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Never ignore a dry cough that is persistent, no matter how mild it might be. It is better to have any unexplained chronic cough checked out, if only for your peace of mind.

See your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Persistent or worsening cough
  • A productive cough with phlegm and mucus
  • Coughing up pinkish sputum or blood
  • Coughing with chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Coughing that keeps you up at night
  • Coughing that causes vocal hoarseness

Ask your doctor if any of the medications you take may be causing a persistent irritating cough. In addition to ACE inhibitors, Zocor (simvastatin), Coreg (carvedilol), Actonel (risedronate), and fluticasone nasal sprays can all cause coughing.

In some cases, a drug substitution or dose reduction may be all that's needed to overcome this common side effect.

A Word From Verywell

Natural cough remedies are intended for the short-term relief of dry coughs that can occur with mild illness, allergies, asthma, and reflux. They should not be used to delay the diagnosis or treatment of moderate to severe coughs or coughs that simply won't go away. More often than not, a doctor can pinpoint the cause of chronic cough and offer a treatment plan to improve your condition.

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