6 Ways to Stop a Cough

Coughs can be irritating and disrupt your daily life. Although they can be caused by many things, coughs that are caused by respiratory infections such as colds and the flu can last three to eight weeks.

This article explains six options for relieving the symptoms of a cough.

cropped view of ill woman with grey scarf taking cough syrup
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Cough Suppressants

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications called cough suppressants provide relief by suppressing the reflex that causes a cough.

However, very little research has been done to prove that these medications actually provide any benefit. Some may have side effects. Most clinical trials involving over-the-counter cough suppressants have shown that they are not any more effective than doing nothing at all.

Expectorants

Expectorants, which also are available OTC, are different from cough suppressants because they don’t stop coughs. They work by thinning your mucus so it drains better. This helps you cough it up more easily.

Unlike cough suppressants, these medications have been proven in clinical studies to decrease secretions. This could reduce symptoms of coughing.

If the cough is caused by the common cold, your healthcare provider may prescribe a decongestant. These can dry up sinus secretions that cause post-nasal drip (which can make you cough).

Prescription Cough Medications

Prescription-strength cough suppressants are used to relieve severe coughs. These can interrupt daily activities and keep you awake at night. Your healthcare provider may prescribe one of these medications if OTC options are not effective.

Prescription cough medications include codeine, which is a narcotic. These drugs can cause side effects and can also be habit-forming.

Other Options

Other ways to relieve symptoms of a cough include:

Cough drops: Throat lozenges or cough drops containing menthol may help relieve coughs temporarily. Menthol acts as a mild anesthetic and can reduce the need to cough.

Humidifier: When you're sick with an upper respiratory illness, using a humidifier can help relieve symptoms. It puts extra moisture in the air, reducing irritation from dry air that can bother already sore throats and uncomfortable nasal passages.

Although using a humidifier won't make your cough go away, it could help reduce the irritation in your airways, meaning you may cough less frequently.

A spoonful of honey: In recent studies, honey has shown to be more effective than OTC cough medications at relieving coughs, especially in children. Just a spoonful of honey can coat the throat and calm a cough, at least periodically.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, honey should never be given to a child under 12 months old. It contains botulism spores, which are not harmful to adults but can lead to botulism poisoning in children under a year old.

Summary

Coughs are a common symptom of many illnesses. While irritating, they help eliminate extra mucus from the airways and prevent it from getting trapped in the lungs, which can lead to complications like pneumonia. Symptoms of a cough can often be relieved by OTC medications and home remedies. In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger cough medicine.

A Word From Verywell

Most coughs will go away on their own in around a week. If your cough lingers for more than a few weeks or if it changes significantly, contact your healthcare provider. You may need to treat the underlying cause of a cough (such as pneumonia or bronchitis) instead of just trying to get relief from the symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you quickly quiet a cough?

    Keeping your throat and mucous membranes moist can help to soothe a cough. Sip water or tea. If you don’t have a drink handy, a cough drop, throat lozenge, or piece of hard candy can help. 

    Cough suppressant medicine will also help calm a cough but can take a little time before the medication starts working. 

  • What medications stop a cough?

    Dextromethorphan—the DM in many cough formulas—sends messages to the brain to stop the cough reflex. 

  • Will guaifenesin quiet a cough?

    No, guaifenesin is an expectorant. It helps treat a cough by thinning out mucous, making phlegm easier to cough up and expel. It helps relieve chest congestion, but it does not quiet a cough.

  • Do cough drops or throat lozenges work better for stopping a cough?

    Cough drops and throat lozenges are very similar. They both contain medications, such as menthol, that help quiet a cough. A throat lozenge also has an analgesic, like benzocaine, that helps to soothe a sore throat. 

    Sucking on a lozenge or cough drop increases saliva production. This helps prevent throat dryness and soothe irritated and itchy throats, suppressing the urge to cough. 

  • What is the best drink for soothing a cough?

    A warm cup of tea with honey and lemon is often recommended for quieting a cough. Honey appears to be the key ingredient. Research show honey can help to soothe a cough.

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7 Sources
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