The 6 Best Home Remedies for a Cough That Just Won’t Quit

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Coughing: It makes trying to conduct a phone call or Zoom meeting difficult, a good night’s sleep impossible, and exercise unenjoyable. Not to mention, an aggressive side-eye may be thrown your way if you do it in public.

While a cough is often associated with upper respiratory illness, like a cold or the flu, there are various reasons why you may be hacking right now. “A cough is a protective mechanism to get irritants out of your airways. It’s the result of your vocal chords slamming together to expel the irritant, which creates a sound,” explains Inna Husain, MD, medical director of otolaryngology with Community Care Network in Munster, Indiana. Coughing can be caused by postnasal drip, allergies, asthma, lung infection, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, according to Penn Medicine.

Experts In This Article
  • Inna Husain, MD, otolaryngologist affiliated with Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana
  • Jen Caudle, DO, family physician and associate professor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey

And a cough can last a while. One systematic review and meta-analysis found that most people recovered from a cough in nine to 11 days, but just 40 to 67 percent of people said their cough was completely gone after two weeks, per BMC Primary Care in 2021. That’s a long time to hold onto a hack.

So it makes sense that you’re looking for effective home remedies for a cough. It’s also worth it to try to decrease coughing (or its cousin, throat clearing) in general. “Coughing can beget coughing by causing more airway hypersensitivity,” says Dr. Husain. Meaning: The more you cough…the more you cough. So, better do something about it now.

Here, learn the best home remedies for a cough along with what to avoid and signs that you need to see a doctor.

Keep the air moist

Your airways prefer to be hydrated, says Dr. Husain. A cool-mist humidifier will add moisture to the air to relieve some of the dryness that can contribute to coughing.

Add a humidifier to your office space if you work from home, and set one up in your bedroom to help reduce coughing at night.

Sip warm liquids

Whether you love tea or a mug of broth, warm liquids can be soothing for a cough, says Jen Caudle, DO, family physician and associate professor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.

If you’ve been sick, you probably know firsthand how comforting this natural cough remedy is. While there isn’t any recent data supporting this, an earlier study in Rhinology on 30 people with a cold or flu found that a steamy sip “provided immediate relief” of symptoms, including cough. And yes, a room-temp drink was also found to help diminish a cough, but the warmth of a hot one was able to address more universal symptoms of these upper-respiratory infections, helping people feel better overall.

So if you need to know how to get rid of a cough in five minutes—say, for that big work presentation—we’re not promising anything, but sipping on a mug of hot tea or even hot water with a little lemon or honey might do the trick.

Have some honey

It’s the sweet life: There’s an indication that using honey can help reduce cough frequency and severity, according to BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine in 2022. Pairing it with hot herbal tea may just be the best home remedy for a cough out there.

Honey is a hack that works for kids who are hacking, too, according to a meta-analysis of 10 studies in the European Journal of Pediatrics in 2023, which found that honey decreased cough frequency better than a placebo or over-the-counter medications, and helped improve sleep at night.

One important thing to remember: Honey isn’t safe for babies under age 1, according to the Nemours Foundation. Plus, it is possible for kids to be allergic to honey, so keep watch for any side effects.

Drink fluids

When you were little and staying home from school, your mom probably told you to stay hydrated, plopping down a cup of water and encouraging you to drink up. (And honestly, she might still give you this advice, even as an adult.) She’s right.

“Fluids tend to be very helpful because they help thin mucus,” says Dr. Caudle. Fluids also keep your tissues moist, helping them feel better when they’ve been irritated from coughing a lot. If you’re dealing with a cough with phlegm, make sure to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Hot herbal tea (with honey) fits the bill, but if you're in a pinch, plain ol' H2O works well, too.

Try nasal irrigation

If your cough is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a stuffy, runny nose, then it may be postnasal drip that’s triggering coughing spells. “Focus your efforts on a nasal regimen to decrease the drip,” says Dr. Husain. “Nasal saline irrigation with a Neti pot will pull mucus forward so it doesn’t drip down your throat,” she says.

Try NeilMed's NasaFlo Neti Pot ($14.99, Target).

Just remember to follow the directions when using these, including—most importantly—using distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water, advises the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Tap water can contain harmful organisms that may cause infections if they get caught in your nasal passages.

Do a nasal rinse one to three times per day, according to UCLA Health.

Elevate your head

One of the best things you can do when you’re sick is to rest. But it’s tough to get the sleep your body needs to give a virus a knockout punch when you’re coughing throughout the night. One of the best home remedies for a cough at night is elevating your head.

Sleeping on an elevation can get to the source of the cough in two ways. “This helps with postnasal drip hitting your airway, but it also helps prevent nighttime reflux,” says Dr. Husain. What’s more, she points out, some medications that you take when you’re sick—such as ibuprofen—can predispose you to reflux.

Using an extra pillow can work in a pinch if you were just saddled with sickness, but that can cause some neck discomfort. Ideally, use a wedge pillow, which looks like a ramp.

What to avoid when you have a cough

The name of the game, says Dr. Husain: “Be kind to your throat tissue when you have a cough.” That means avoiding carbonated beverages and foods that may irritate the lining even more, like spicy or especially crunchy foods.

In addition, turn off your ceiling fans—they tend to spew dust and dry air around a room that can irritate airways, Dr. Husain says. Smoke and tobacco smoke are airway irritants, too, so avoid these as well.

If you have a cough caused by allergies or asthma, avoid triggers, like pet dander or dust mites. And if acid reflux is a regular problem for you, then you’ll want to avoid things that set off heartburn, such as eating fatty and fried foods, drinking alcohol or coffee, or taking aspirin, per the Mayo Clinic.

Can you prevent a cough?

It depends on why you have a cough in the first place, and if the cough is caused by an illness, like a cold, that will get better with time, or more of a chronic condition, such as allergies or asthma.

For example, allergies can cause a chronic, dry cough, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (ACAAI). By starting seasonal allergy medications early—for example, by Valentine’s Day if you have spring allergies, notes the ACAAI—you can help head off symptoms, like a cough.

The key point is to make sure that conditions like allergies, asthma, or acid reflux are both diagnosed and well-managed. If not, make an appointment with your doctor to put a plan in place so you don’t have to live with a chronic cough.

When to see a doctor about a cough

A cough can last a long time, but if you have an upper-respiratory infection, it should start to get better as you recover. If your cough lasts longer than a few weeks or you have additional symptoms such as wheezing or shortness of breath see a doctor, says the Mayo Clinic.

But, really, you don’t have to wait this long. “As doctors, we want to look for the underlying cause of the cough,” says Dr. Caudle. Because if you know that, you can treat the problem, which will get rid of the cough in the most effective way.

In some instances, like the common cold, there’s no treatment (womp, womp), so you’re best off doing one of the things on this list for DIY cough relief until your body fights off the virus and your symptoms go away. However, there are antiviral treatments for COVID-19 and influenza, but you have to test for these promptly as symptoms come on.

That said, if a virus is not the culprit, all the tea or honey in the world is not going to completely fix a cough caused by postnasal drip from allergies or acid reflux—you’re going to have to identify and treat those conditions to stop the cough.

Persistent cough shouldn’t be treated at home because long-term coughing can be a sign of so many other problems, such as a serious infection, says StatPearls. One of the worst things you can do is pound cough medicine without knowing why you have a persistent cough. Make an appointment with your doctor so you can get on your way to breathing easy again.

—reviewed by Jennifer Gilbert, MD, MPH

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
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  2. Sanu A, Eccles R. The effects of a hot drink on nasal airflow and symptoms of common cold and flu. Rhinology. 2008 Dec;46(4):271-5. PMID: 19145994.
  3. Abuelgasim H, Albury C, Lee J. Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Evid Based Med. 2021 Apr;26(2):57-64. doi: 10.1136/bmjebm-2020-111336. Epub 2020 Aug 18. PMID: 32817011.
  4. Kuitunen I, Renko M. Honey for acute cough in children – a systematic review. Eur J Pediatr. 2023 Sep;182(9):3949-3956. doi: 10.1007/s00431-023-05066-1. Epub 2023 Jun 25. PMID: 37355498; PMCID: PMC10570220.

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