A cough is the body's response to inflammation or irritation in the throat, larynx, bronchial tubes or lungs. There are two basic kinds of coughs, congested and dry, with each one having different underlying causes.
The obvious causes of coughing are colds, flu, bronchial infections, sinus congestion, smoking, and the need to rid the throat of foreign matter. But did you know that heartburn is one of the leading causes? For some unknown reason heartburn is the cause for about 10% of chronic coughers. See our Heartburn section for suggestions to relieve both the heartburn and coughing. Dust, pollen and chemicals are other sources of irritants. Also, some drugs, most notably ACE inhibitors used for high blood pressure, have coughing as a side effect in 21% of the people using them. Coughing is also a common symptom of asthma. The sound of your cough may indicate its cause. Below is a list of the cough sounds and what that may indicate:
• Breathe the steam from a vaporizer, hot shower, or pan of boiling water. The moist air will soothe the airways and loosen sinus congestion and phlegm in your throat and lungs. A few drops of the oil of eucalyptus will help this process.
• Elevate the head of your bed. This will allow your sinuses and nasal passages to drain better and not create that "tickle" in your throat.
• Stop smoking. Passive smoke or other irritants, such as chemicals, can be a cause. Household cleaners, new carpeting, paneling and mattresses are some of the many possible sources of chemical irritants.
• Drink at least 8 eight ounce glasses of water. This is especially important if your cough is due to an illness. Water is the best expectorant you can take and will help thin the mucus and loosen the cough.
• Do not use over-the-counter expectorant cough remedies as they just suppress the symptoms and do not address the underlying problem. If you have the kind of cough with mucus you want to get it out of your respiratory system, not suppress it. Try one of the natural expectorant remedies below.
• Try eating hot chili peppers, horseradish or other spicy foods. They will help loosen mucus.
• During the winter, if your house is dry, use a humidifier and a cool-mist vaporizer in your bedroom at night. This will help thin the mucus. Be sure to thoroughly clean the vaporizer, as it can harbor bacteria.
• Drink hot tea to break up the mucus and open and moisten the airways.
• Cough drops or hard candy will help stop the tickle if you have a dry cough and will moisten the throat.
• Avoid foods that increase the production of mucus, such as dairy products, meat and fried foods.
• Hot packs placed on your throat and chest are very soothing.
Vitamins A, C and E are beneficial with conditions that cause coughs.
The use of inhaled steam can be very effective in liquefying mucus and reducing irritation. To control the steam, bend over the steaming water while holding a towel over your head. Try some of these aromatherapy oils. Inhaling essential oils can stimulate your lungs to expel phlegm.
Cypress Add three drops each of cypress and juniper oil and a drop of ginger.
Cedar Dilute 3 drops of oil of cedar in one teaspoon of carrier oil, such as olive, sweet almond or jojoba, and massage onto your chest several times a day.
Eucalyptus Add a few drops of eucalyptus to a carrier oil and rub on your chest.
• Put 10-15 drops of oil in boiling water and inhale the steam. Eucalyptus is a good decongestant and expectorant. You can also add three drops of hyssop oil.
Jasmine Use the oil in a burner or put a few drops on a handkerchief and inhale the fumes.
Myrrh Add a few drops of myrrh to a carrier oil and rub on your chest. This will help reduce mucus.
Peppermint Dilute 3 drops of peppermint oil in one teaspoon of carrier oil, such as olive, sweet almond or jojoba, and massage onto your chest several times a day.
Pine Put some essential pine oil in a burner to soothe the throat. You can also place a few drops on a handkerchief and inhale the fumes.
Thyme Add 10-15 drops of this oil in a pan of boiling water and inhale the fumes, in an infuser, or place a few drops on a handkerchief and inhale.
• Massaging using oil of thyme may also be helpful in relieving your cough. Put 5 drops in 1/4 cup olive oil and massage your neck and upper body. Thyme is an excellent expectorant and has been used for centuries to heal respiratory conditions.
Rub the padded area below your big toe in various directions at the first sign of a cough. Also, hold back the toes and press on the raised area with your thumb. This will help relieve chest congestion.
Aloe vera Mix equal parts of aloe juice and honey. This is very good for a scratchy cough.
Angelica Use a tincture of the root or leaf, or make a tea. Angelica is an expectorant. Do not use if you are pregnant.
Bee balm Native Americans used bee balm to alleviate colds and coughs. Steep two teaspoons of fresh (one, dried) bee balm leaves in a cup of hot water, covered, for four minutes. Sip a cup three times a day. Bee balm has antiseptic compounds that can help heal respiratory infections and clear nasal congestion.
Carrot juice Mix with honey and a little warm water. Take a tablespoonful several times a day.
Cayenne pepper Mix 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of pepper in a glass of water and use as a gargle, swallowing afterward. You can also use 15-20 drops of Tabasco sauce in a glass of water or juice. Pepper helps clear congestion and draws blood to the throat to fight infection.
Chamomile tea will soothe the throat.
Garlic Grate one or two cloves of garlic and mix with a teaspoon of honey. Take as needed.
Ginger Make a tea using ginger and drink 6 oz several times a day, as needed.
Grape juice Mix a cup of grape juice with a teaspoon of honey.
Honey Mix honey with juice of a fresh lemon and take as needed. Not only does honey soothe the tickle, but it has antibacterial properties, too.
• Dr. D. C. Jarvis, in his classic book, Folk Medicine, described another honey remedy that worked very well: boil a whole lemon for 10 minutes; when cool enough to handle roll it back and forth on a hard surface, cut it in half and squeeze the juice into a pint of raw honey. Add a teaspoon of glycerin and take as often as needed.
Horehound cough drops have been used for generations to quell coughs. One of horehound's compounds, marrubiin, stimulates bronchial secretions and helps break up congestion.
Hyssop Steep two teaspoons of dried hyssop in one cup of boiling water, covered for ten minutes; strain and drink cool for an expectorant or hot to relieve congestion. The oils in hyssop are good for mild respiratory problems. Hyssop contains marrubiin, the same compound that makes horehound an excellent expectorant.
Lime juice Mix equal parts of lime juice and honey.
Mullein soothes and relaxes the lungs and bronchial tubes, which eases a cough. Use 25-30 drops of tincture in a small glass of boiling water three times a day.
Onion broth Make a broth by boiling an onion for 10-15 minutes; strain and drink the broth several times a day. The broth will reduce congestion.
Onion juice Make a syrup by combining 1 teaspoonful of raw onion juice with 1 teaspoonful of honey; let stand for 3-4 hours, and take in divided doses.
Sugar Suck on a cube of raw sugar.
Tea Tea made with peppermint or rosemary will help break up congestion.
Thyme Make a tea using two tablespoons of fresh (one tablespoon of dried) thyme in a cup of boiling water; steep, covered, for four minutes; strain and drink hot. Thyme relaxes the lungs and promotes expectoration of mucus. It contains a volatile oil, thymol, which has antiseptic and antibacterial properties.
A dry cough will be raspy and without phlegm and may be due to smoking, asthma, dust, foreign matter, pollution, or come after a sore throat. Another cause of your dry cough could be a climate-controlled building. The heating and cooling systems dry the air and your respiratory membranes, too. Rapid temperature and humidity changes upon entering a building add to the problem. Chronic coughing, sneezing and a runny nose may be the result. If you work in a climate-controlled building, avoid cold drinks and food as they interfere with your body's ability to maintain its optimal temperature. During the air-conditioning season cold foods and drinks affect your body's temperature and its ability to adjust to the building's conditions; instead drink hot liquids and eat warm foods. When your building is heated, drink fluids at room temperature. You want to soothe the mucus membranes and moisturize your throat.
Inhaling steam from a pan with one of the essential oils mentioned above added is particularly helpful with dry coughs.
Aloe vera juice Mix equal parts of aloe vera juice and honey and take a tablespoon or two as needed. Good for a smoker's cough.
Apple cider vinegar Sprinkle apple cider vinegar on your pillowcase before bedtime.
• Put 1 or 2 teaspoons of vinegar in a glass of water and keep beside your bed to use when you feel the tickling sensation coming on. Take a few swallows as needed. Vinegar dissolves mucus and reduces inflammation.
• Mix 1/2 cup of honey with 3-4 tablespoons of vinegar. Take one tablespoon before going to bed or during a coughing fit, and throughout the day, as needed. Stir well before use.
Comfrey Take a comfrey tea for dry persistent coughs. Comfrey should not be taken for long term use as it may cause liver damage.
Codonopsis root Use a decoction, tincture or powder for chronic coughs.
Garlic Mince a clove of garlic and place in a small bowl; cover with honey and cover the bowl with plastic wrap; marinate overnight. Take one tablespoonful upon awakening, then throughout the day, as needed.
Honey Add a tablespoon of honey to a glass of boiling water and drink as needed. This will soothe the throat.
Horehound lozenges help suppress a dry cough.
Licorice root Take 5 grams of powdered root with honey three times a day. You can also make a decoction by using 1/2 teaspoon to one cup of water. Take three cups daily. Licorice has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, and is an expectorant. Do not use if you have high blood pressure.
Tea Make a tea of wild cherry bark, slippery elm or red clover. Sweeten with honey.
Zinc lozenges are helpful.
Antimonium tart Is to be used if the cough is loose and rattling with little or no phlegm and breathing is painful.
Bryonia Use when a cold has gone to the chest and turned in to a hard, dry cough.
Drosera Use for a cough after which you have a whooping sound or with vomiting.
Ferrum phos. Is beneficial for a hard, dry cough with a tickle.