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.

If you are dealing with a cough that lasts much longer than that, 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 symptom.

If you are looking for relief from your illness-induced cough, we have some options that may help.

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

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are intended to 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 and they do 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 thin your mucus so it drains better and you cough it up more easily.

Unlike cough suppressants, these medications have been proven in clinical studies to decrease secretions, which could reduce the amount of coughing you have to deal with.

If the cough is caused by the common-cold, an antihistamine and a decongestant are usually prescribed by a family physician.

Prescription Cough Medications

Prescription-strength cough suppressants are used to relieve coughs that are so severe that they interrupt daily activities (usually sleep) and over the counter products are not effective.

Most prescription cough medications include codeine, which is a narcotic and causes even more side effects and come with more risks than over the counter products.

Other Options

You have a few other options for relieving a cough, as well.

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 many of the symptoms you are dealing with. 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.

Spoonful of honey: In recent studies, honey has shown to be more effective than over the counter 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.

A Word From Verywell

If you're dealing with a bothersome cough caused by a minor illness, these tricks may give you temporary relief.

It's important to remember, though, that coughs are actually a good thing. While irritating, they help us eliminate extra mucus from our airways and prevent it from getting trapped in the lungs and leading to more serious illnesses like pneumonia.

If your cough lingers for more than a few weeks or if it changes significantly, contact your healthcare provider to determine if you need a different type of treatment. Although most coughs resolve on their own, some are more serious and need to be investigated further.

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