Point being, a dry cough can be caused by a number of things—but it can also be cured with a variety of treatments, too. Which brings us to today’s topic: dry cough remedies. Ahead, learn how to stop coughing by uncovering home remedies for a cough, the best cough medicine, and more.
What is a dry cough?
A dry cough is exactly as it sounds. “It’s one that does not produce sputum, or phlegm,” says family medicine physician Marjan Koosha Johnson, DO. With a lack of mucus, dry coughs can tickle the throat, which can then trigger more coughing spells.
According to Dr. Johnson, dry coughs can fall into one of two categories: acute or chronic. Where acute dry coughs are short-lived, chronic coughs are persistent or they regularly reappear. Where acute dry coughs are typically associated with some type of upper respiratory infection or irritation and resolve on their own within a few weeks, chronic dry coughs last more than eight weeks and can be triggered by a number of things.
According to the American College of Chest Physicians, the most common chronic cough causes are postnasal drip, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and cough-variant asthma. An article published in Lung India, the official publication of the Indian Chest Society, adds that allergies, colds, viral infections, eosinophilic bronchitis, and other issues can also cause a chronic dry cough. What’s interesting though is that, despite having a general idea of what causes a dry cough, the same article notes that healthcare practitioners couldn't find any cause in up to 42 percent of patients presenting at a specialized clinic.
Truly, the statistics are staggering. For instance, did you know that in the U.S., up to 38 percent of a pulmonologist’s outpatient practice centers on treating chronic dry coughs? Me neither. But the point is: Dry coughs are by no means rare. And as such, people have come up with some pretty stellar dry cough remedies over the years. So, without further ado, keep reading to uncover the best dry cough remedies, according to doctors.
Dry cough remedies
The next time you're stuck hacking for hours (or days) on end, try one of these nine home treatments.
1. Suck on throat lozenges
Dry coughs can be particularly irritating because, without mucus, your bronchial tubes are catching the brunt of the reverberations. Thankfully, throat lozenges, like Ricola Cough Drops ($5), can be purchased over the counter for instant relief. “Throat lozenges can provide relief to soothe an irritated throat that is producing a dry cough,” says functional medicine doctor Amy Myers, MD. “When you suck on a throat lozenge, it dissolves, releasing the medication to soothe your throat.” Since lozenges are medicated, she says to make sure you check for any contraindications with any other medications you’re already taking before popping one into your mouth.
2. Use a humidifier
Since the throat feels particularly acrid when dealing with a dry cough, it helps to reintroduce moisture into the air and the area. To do so, Dr. Myers suggests a humidifier. “Humidifiers add moisture to the air and often can provide relief at night to ease [coughing during] sleep by increasing the moisture in your throat,” she says.
3. Add honey to your drinks—or eat it straight
It’s no secret that sipping on warm drinks can help soothe an irritated throat. As much as we love tea and hot water on its own, Dr. Myers says to add honey to the mix for a beloved dry cough remedy. “Honey can decrease inflammation (and sometimes helps with mucus secretion) as it has anti-inflammatory properties,” she says.
If you’re not a fan of hot drinks (which are necessary to melt the honey), research shows that a spoonful of honey eaten directly can adequately soothe dry coughs, especially before bed.
4. Add lemon to the mix
As helpful as honey is on its own, it’s common lore that combining honey and lemon in hot water can prove especially beneficial for soothing stubborn dry cough symptoms. “Honey water is simply water with honey dissolved in it. Sometimes, lemon is added, especially when people are using it for a sore throat or immune boost, or to add flavor,” Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN previously told Well+Good.
5. Try elderberry
“Another natural remedy is elderberry, which contains natural substances called flavonoids,” Dr. Myers says. “They can reduce swelling, fight inflammation, and boost the immune system.” A bag of the Beekeepers Naturals Propolis Soothing Lozenges ($9) can make elderberry part of your arsenal of dry cough remedies.
6. Give gargling a go
Since the throat becomes irritated and inflamed when a dry cough is present, something as simple as gargling could help to alleviate the tickling sensation, research shows. Gargling salt water can be particularly helpful if you also have a sore throat.
7. Use a throat spray
Since gargling and whipping up a cup of hot water with honey and lemon isn’t always possible when you're running from point A to point B, tossing an on-the-go option in your bag can come in super handy. Our suggestion? The Beekeeper’s Naturals Propolis Immune Support Throat Spray ($14). For those who don’t know, propolis is also known as bee glue—it’s a reparative substance that research shows can help with throat comfort, as well as virus prevention and protection.
8. Try adding thyme to your medicine cabinet
Another natural substance that’s said to provide dry cough relief is thyme. While more studies are needed, research shows that thyme preparations can not only reduce the severity of cough symptoms, it can diminish cough frequency, too.
While you could try adding more thyme into your diet to witness the effects, another option is to buy a thyme-infused cough product, such as the Organic Olivia Chest Comfort Syrup ($28).
9. Take cough suppressants (responsibly)
As helpful as natural and DIY cough remedies are, sometimes dry coughs are so persistent and intense that they require more targeted relief. If that’s the case, start with over-the-counter cough suppressants. The most popular options include Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil SEVERE Cold & Flu ($17) and Robitussin Adult Maximum Strength Cough + Chest Congestion DM Max ($11). If you want a more natural option, you might consider the Beekeepers Naturals Daytime Propolis Cough Syrup ($15).
How long does it typically take to get rid of a dry cough?
The severity and duration of a dry cough both depend on the cause. “If it’s something like reflux, for example, getting the reflux under control should stop the nightly cough,” Dr. Johnson says.
While some coughs can take just a few days to dissipate, Dr. Myers says that others can last three, five, and even upwards of eight weeks. “If your cough is lasting more than three weeks, I recommend consulting your doctor to find the root cause,” she says. Other reasons you should consult a doctor about your cough is if you begin coughing up blood or start experiencing chest pain or difficulty breathing in conjunction with your cough.
“A tight chest is usually a symptom that I would recommend seeking more immediate care for (i.e. emergency room),” Dr. Johnson says. “Depending on whether that chest tightness is accompanied by any other symptoms would help narrow down a more dangerous diagnosis, however, a tight chest is just not something I take lightly.”
All in all, Dr. Johnson says the best approach is to consult your doctor when any new or worsening conditions appear—and that goes with all aspects of your health, not just dry coughs. “If nothing else, he or she can provide you with peace of mind if it sounds more consistent with something self-limiting like the common cold,” she says. “And if it is something more worrisome, then no doubt you will be recommended to take the appropriate steps.”
While it’s very helpful to know dry cough remedies off the top of your mind, the best way to treat a dry cough is to get to the root of it, rather than just soothing it. “If you’re not sure what is causing your dry cough, contact your doctor,” Dr. Myers says.
- Pratter, Melvin R. “Overview of common causes of chronic cough: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines.” Chest vol. 129,1 Suppl (2006): 59S-62S. doi:10.1378/chest.129.1_suppl.59S
- Mahashur, Ashok. “Chronic dry cough: Diagnostic and management approaches.” Lung India : official organ of Indian Chest Society vol. 32,1 (2015): 44-9. doi:10.4103/0970-2113.148450
- Magni, Chiara et al. “Cough variant asthma and atopic cough.” Multidisciplinary respiratory medicine vol. 5,2 99-103. 30 Apr. 2010, doi:10.1186/2049-6958-5-2-99
- Ashkin, Evan, and Anne Mounsey. “PURLs: a spoonful of honey helps a coughing child sleep.” The Journal of family practice vol. 62,3 (2013): 145-7.
- Mahboubi, Mohaddese. “Sambucus nigra (black elder) as alternative treatment for cold and flu.” Advances in Traditional Medicine vol. 21,3 (2021): 405–414. doi:10.1007/s13596-020-00469-z
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- Pasupuleti, Visweswara Rao et al. “Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity vol. 2017 (2017): 1259510. doi:10.1155/2017/1259510
- Pelvan, Ebru et al. “Development of propolis and essential oils containing oral/throat spray formulation against SARS-CoV-2 infection.” Journal of functional foods vol. 97 (2022): 105225. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2022.105225
- Wagner, Luise et al. “Herbal Medicine for Cough: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Forschende Komplementarmedizin (2006) vol. 22,6 (2015): 359-68. doi:10.1159/000442111
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