Cough: 19 Tips on How to Stop a Cough

Coughing is a common and often inconvenient symptom that can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from respiratory infections to allergies and irritants in the environment. While coughing is a natural reflex designed to clear the airways of irritants and mucus, it can become persistent and troublesome. Whether you’re dealing with a nagging cough or trying to prevent one from getting worse, this guide provides 19 tips on how to stop a cough effectively and regain your comfort and well-being. From home remedies to lifestyle changes and medical interventions, we’ll explore a range of strategies to help you find relief and put an end to that incessant cough.

What Causes Coughing?

Coughing is a natural reflex designed to clear irritants from your airways. This reflex is triggered by various factors, including allergens, medical conditions, medications, and other irritants, leading to forceful expulsion of air from your lungs.

Coughs can be attributed to a multitude of causes. Common triggers for coughing encompass:


  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Animal dander
  • Mold


  • Smoking
  • Inhaling secondhand smoke
  • Pollution
  • Chemical fumes
  • Perfumes
  • Air fresheners

Medical Conditions

  • Common cold
  • Upper respiratory tract infections
  • Influenza
  • Pneumonia
  • Whooping cough
  • Asthma
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Sinus infections
  • Postnasal drip
  • Acute bronchitis
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart failure


  • ACE inhibitors
  • Beta-blockers

Differentiating Dry and Wet Coughs

Dry coughs are typically triggered by factors such as cold and flu viruses, allergies, acid reflux, ACE inhibitor medications, and irritants like cigarette smoke. In contrast, wet coughs are often associated with cold or flu viruses or conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

A persistent, or chronic, cough persists for more than three weeks and can be attributed to conditions such as heart disease, asthma, lung disease, bronchitis, or whooping cough.

19 Natural and Home Remedies to Cure and Soothe a Cough

Once the cause of your cough has been identified, and serious underlying medical conditions have been ruled out, you can often find relief through home remedies. Always consult your doctor before using herbal remedies or natural supplements, as they may interact with your medications.

  1. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to thin mucus.
  2. Inhale Steam: Take a hot shower or create a steam tent by pouring hot water into a bowl, facing it (from at least 1 foot away), and covering your head with a towel. Inhalation can help, but avoid if you have asthma.
  3. Use a Humidifier: Moisture from a humidifier can help loosen mucus.
  4. Soothe with Cough Drops or Lozenges: These can ease throat irritation but should not be given to young children.
  5. Saltwater Gargle: Clears mucus from the throat.
  6. Elevate Your Head: Sleep with an extra pillow to reduce nighttime coughing.
  7. Quit Smoking: Avoid both smoking and secondhand smoke.
  8. Steer Clear of Inhaled Irritants: Avoid dust, perfumes, and pollutants.
  9. Harness the Power of Honey: It acts as a cough suppressant and can be used by adults and children over one year of age.
  10. Sip Ginger Tea: Soothes throat inflammation.
  11. Eucalyptus Oil: Use in a vaporizer or apply to your chest to help break up mucus.
  12. Mint: Often consumed as tea, it aids in mucus clearance from the lungs.
  13. Menthol Lozenges: Can provide relief from a persistent cough.
  14. Licorice Root: Acts as an expectorant.
  15. Slippery Elm: Coats and soothes the throat.
  16. Apple Cider Vinegar: Diluted or mixed with honey, it helps thin mucus.
  17. Turmeric: May alleviate digestive problems contributing to GERD-related coughs.
  18. Chicken Soup: Known for easing symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.
  19. Indulge in Chocolate: Theobromide, found in chocolate, may suppress vagus nerve activity responsible for coughing.

These tips can help you manage and find relief from various types of coughs.

What are the options for addressing a cough using over-the-counter (OTC) products? There’s a variety of OTC cough remedies designed to alleviate and resolve coughing fits. These medications typically fall into two categories: cough suppressants and expectorants, available as tablets or cough syrups.

Cough Suppressants:

Also known as antitussives, these substances hinder the cough reflex to provide relief from persistent coughing. One common OTC cough suppressant is dextromethorphan, found in products like Triaminic Cold and Cough, Robitussin Cough, Delsym, and Vicks 44 Cough and Cold.


Expectorants work by thinning mucus, making it easier to expel. Guaifenesin is the sole OTC expectorant and can be found in products such as Mucinex and Robitussin Chest Congestion.

Combination Products:

Often, you’ll encounter a combination of dextromethorphan and guaifenesin in products like Robitussin DM. These medications might also contain other substances, like pain relievers, decongestants, or antihistamines, which can address additional cold symptoms. However, if your primary issue is a cough, it’s advisable to steer clear of products with antihistamines or decongestants, as they can thicken mucus and exacerbate cough symptoms.

Other OTC Cough Solutions:

For coughs resulting from postnasal drip, decongestants like pseudoephedrine or antihistamines like diphenhydramine can provide relief. Coughs linked to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may respond to medications like famotidine, cimetidine, omeprazole, lansoprazole, or esomeprazole.

What Prescription Medications are Effective for Coughs?

In cases of severe coughs, OTC remedies and home treatments may not suffice, necessitating prescription medications.

  1. Cough Suppressants:

Codeine and other narcotic medications are often prescribed as potent cough suppressants. They may be combined with dextromethorphan or guaifenesin.

  1. Bacterial Infections:

If the cough is due to bacterial infections like whooping cough, bacterial pneumonia, complicated bronchitis, or sinusitis, antibiotics such as penicillin, cephalosporins, or azithromycin may be prescribed.

  1. Allergies:

For coughs linked to allergies, such as hay fever, inhaled nasal steroids can be prescribed.

  1. Chronic Conditions:

Chronic coughs related to conditions like asthma may benefit from prescription inhaled bronchodilators and inhaled steroids. Short-term oral steroids can be used to alleviate chronic cough by reducing airway inflammation.

  1. GERD-Related Cough:

When GERD causes a cough, prescription medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), including omeprazole, rabeprazole, and pantoprazole, may be recommended.

Your primary care provider (PCP), such as a family practitioner, internal medicine specialist, or pediatrician, is typically the first point of contact for diagnosing and treating a cough. In cases of severe cough, an emergency medicine specialist may provide care in a hospital’s emergency department.

Individuals with chronic or persistent coughs may be referred to specialists based on the underlying cause. For allergies, an allergist may be consulted, while a gastroenterologist may be needed for GERD-related coughs. A pulmonologist, specializing in airway diseases, may treat coughs resulting from lung conditions, and a cardiologist may address coughs linked to underlying heart issues.

How to Alleviate Nighttime Coughing:

Cough symptoms often worsen during the night, which can be attributed to postnasal drip, acid reflux, or other factors. Several strategies and home remedies can help ease nighttime coughing:

  1. Elevation:

Use extra pillows to elevate your upper body when experiencing postnasal drip or acid reflux. This prevents mucus or stomach acid from irritating your throat while lying flat.

  1. Steam:

Taking a steamy shower before bedtime can provide relief, but this might worsen coughs related to asthma.

  1. Humidifier:

A humidifier can add moisture to the air, which can alleviate coughing. However, be cautious if you have allergies to dust mites or mold, as excess moisture can promote their growth.

  1. Clean Bedding:

Regularly wash your bedding in hot water and use a dryer to prevent dust mites from accumulating.

  1. Herbal Tea:

Sip on decaffeinated tea with honey before bed to soothe your throat and thin mucus. Herbal teas with ingredients like ginger, peppermint, or licorice root can also be helpful.

  1. Vapor Rub:

Apply a vapor rub containing menthol to help open airways.

  1. Preparedness:

Keep essential items like cough medicine, lozenges, and a glass of water on your nightstand for immediate relief.

  1. Avoid Irritants:

Refrain from smoking and avoid using perfumes, air fresheners, or other irritants in the bedroom.

  1. OTC Medications:

Consider OTC cough medicines that contain either cough suppressants or expectorants, but consult your doctor or pharmacist for guidance.

When to Seek Medical Attention for a Cough:

While many coughs are not cause for concern, certain circumstances warrant a doctor’s evaluation rather than self-treatment. Seek medical attention if your cough is accompanied by:

  1. Fever above 101°F (38.3°C).
  2. Coughing up blood.
  3. Yellow or green phlegm.
  4. Shortness of breath.
  5. Difficulty swallowing.
  6. Loss of appetite.
  7. Weight loss.
  8. Excessive mucus production.
  9. Chest pain unrelated to the cough.
  10. Wheezing.
  11. Fatigue.
  12. Weakness.
  13. Night sweats.
  14. Worsening cough when improvement should be expected.
  15. Exposure to infectious diseases like the flu or whooping cough.

These symptoms, when coupled with a cough, may indicate a more serious underlying condition requiring medical treatment.

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