Remedies for Dry Cough

There are many treatments for a dry cough, including home remedies and medications. Common causes of a dry cough include allergies, asthma, an infection, and acid reflux. And your treatment often depends on the cause and whether your cough is recurrent or new.

home remedies for dry cough

Verywell / Laura Porter

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

If your dry cough is mild and uncomplicated, without fever, chest pain, or any other concerning symptoms, it may be reasonable to treat it with a home remedy.

Hydration

A dry throat can make your cough worse. Try to remember to sip on soothing fluid, like tea or water with lemon.

Steam Inhalation

Breathing in steam is a home remedy that most people are familiar with. Warm steam can help moisturize dry and irritated nasal passages, ease throat pain, and reduce the severity of a cough caused by mild infection or allergy.

Some natural additives like holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) may be added to steam for treating coughs caused by cold, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, asthma, and allergies.

As you breathe in the steam, drape a towel over your head to take in more moisture. Don't place your face directly over a pot of boiling water, as it may cause a severe burn.

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Gargling

Gargling with saltwater is something that healthcare providers will often recommend to ease a sore throat caused by the common cold. Saltwater draws moisture away from the area of soreness to help reduce swelling and irritation.

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

Diet

You can develop a cough as a reaction to food allergies. If you notice that certain foods make you cough, don't eat them. Consider keeping a food diary to figure out if anything you are eating is triggering your cough.

Sometimes certain conditions can make you more prone to a cough:

  • If you are prone to respiratory allergy symptoms, avoiding certain foods that are high in histamines can help relieve your symptoms, including your cough. These include alcohol, pickled foods, matured cheese, shellfish, smoked meat, chocolate, dried fruit, and strawberries.
  • Acid reflux can also cause a chronic cough. If you have acid reflux, avoid high-fat foods, acidic foods (including tomatoes), chocolate, caffeine, and spicy foods, all of which can worsen your symptoms.

Environment

There are several things you can do at home to help keep your surroundings from triggering or exacerbating your cough.

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier if your coughing tends to develop in dry weather, especially at night.
  • Get an air purifier to help clear allergens and irritants from the air, including dust, dander, and pollen. This can be helpful if you have asthma.
  • Do not smoke. Exposure to smoke from cigarettes, vaping, and marijuana increases throat irritation.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

OTC therapies can often help alleviate your cough, especially as you are getting over a cold.
Often, using cough drops is enough to make you feel better, especially if you also have a sore throat. You can add a mentholated product like Vicks Vapo-Rub to your steam inhalation, and it can provide additional relief.

Dextromethorphan is an OTC medication that's often used for treating a dry cough.

You can use a generic version, and commonly used brands include:

Keep in mind that many OTC cough medicines are also decongestants, and you might not need that effect if you have a dry cough.

You can call your healthcare provider's office to describe your symptoms and see what they recommend, and sometimes you can also get advice about OTC medications from your pharmacist.

Prescriptions

A dry cough can be caused by any number of things, including allergies, environmental irritants, infections, and even certain drugs (like ACE inhibitors).

A chronic cough may 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. Your healthcare provider will diagnose the problem and may need to prescribe treatment based on the cause of your cough.

  • Seasonal allergies: If you have severe seasonal hay fever, you may benefit from taking a daily oral antihistamine to prevent allergies when pollen and mold counts begin to climb.
  • 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.
  • Infection: If you have an infection, such as pneumonia, you may need treatment with antibiotics.
  • Acid reflux: Your healthcare provider may prescribe an acid blocker if your cough is associated with acid reflux.

See your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider or pharmacist if any of the medications you take may be causing your cough. In addition to ACE inhibitors, Zocor (simvastatin), Coreg (carvedilol), Actonel (risedronate), and fluticasone nasal sprays can all cause coughing.

In some cases, reducing the dosage or changing medications may be all that's needed to overcome this common side effect.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Many CAM therapies for easing the symptoms of a dry cough have been passed down from one generation to the next. Despite claims of effectiveness, there is often little more than anecdotal evidence to support their use.

Raw Honey

Raw honey is one of the oldest home remedies used to treat any type of cough. It coats the throat and may have natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help ease throat irritation. Its possible 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) but not as effective as dextromethorphan (used in products like Delsym Cough) for treating a cough in children.

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 the risk of botulism. Honey also affects blood sugar, so other options may be better if you need to be careful about managing your glucose levels.

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.

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 has been said to contain 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 it may slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bruising and nosebleeds in people who are taking anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drugs.

Turmeric

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) contains a compound called curcumin that has been said to have mild antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to treat mild arthritis and respiratory disease. Most of these claims are not supported by research, however.

Some researchers have suggested that turmeric taken orally may ease cough and other symptoms of asthma. It hasn't been shown to help treat an acute cough.

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 can have this effect when it's taken orally (such as with tea or by sucking on candied ginger), and 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) 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.

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, 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.

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 healthcare provider can pinpoint the cause of chronic cough and offer a treatment plan to improve your condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a dry cough?

    A dry cough doesn't bring up any mucus or phlegm like a wet or productive cough does. With a dry cough, you may feel a scratchy or tickling feeling on the back of the throat.

  • What causes a dry cough?

    A dry cough can be caused by irritation of nerves in the respiratory tract. This can happen for a number of reasons, such as allergens, infections, smoke, dust, stomach acid, and nasal mucus.

  • How can you stop a dry cough at night?

    Try drinking some fluids, such as warm tea, before you go to bed. For adults and children over 1 year of age, adding honey to the tea may also help with calming your cough. Use extra pillows to elevate your head to reduce acid reflux and nasal mucus in the throat. You can also try using a cool-mist humidifier at night if dry air is making your symptoms worse.

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Article Sources
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