The direct cause of cough associated with colds and flu is believed to be the irritation of nerve fibers in the back of the throat due to inflammation, post nasal drip and other irritants. [REF 1-Sec 1] Controlling a nagging cough is often a matter of soothing inflamed throat tissue. While the effectiveness of over-the-counter cough medicines is increasingly being called into question, many are looking to cost-effective home remedies. Here’s a look at some proven favorites.
Honey has been well-studied as cough suppressant, particularly in children, and it may come to be known as nature’s cough medicine. In a study published in the December, 2007 edition of the JAMA Pediatrics, honey was shown to be superior to dextromethorphan (DM), the most popular over-the-counter cough suppressant in relieving cough and improving sleep. [REF 2] The World Health Organization recommends mixing one teaspoon of honey to a cup of hot water or tea. Honey should not be given to children younger than 1 year old. [REF 3/Sec 8.1]
Gargling warm salt water is a tried and true home remedy that soothes sore throats and relieves cough by drawing water from swollen throat tissue. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends gargling several times daily with a solution of ¼ teaspoon salt to ½ cup warm water. [REF 4] The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests steeping fresh eucalyptus leaves in hot water to help loosen mucous, which also helps relieve cough. However, eucalyptus oil should never be swallowed. [REF 5]
Drinking lots of fluids helps the body fight infection and is one of the best things you can do for yourself when you have a cold or any other illness. [REF 5/Summary Points] Hot teas help tame coughs by moistening and soothing the throat, and certain herbal teas may have medicinal properties that reduce coughing. Licorice is a proven anti-inflammatory and traditional natural remedy for cough and cold. [REF 5] Along with slippery elm and marshmallow root, it’s an ingredient popular tea remedy Throat Coat, which has been shown to relieve sore throat, though the effects are a short-lived 30 minutes. [REF 6] Turmeric is a favorite Aryuvedic remedy for cough, post-nasal drip, and sinusitis. [REF 7/Sec 13.5]. You can make your own tea out of turmeric or licorice root, or buy commercially prepared herbal teas.
Steam and Mist Inhalation
Inhaling steam is at least as effective for loosening mucous as guaifenesin, the most common expectorant found in cough medicines. [REF 8, Sec 3/Expectorants] The American College of Chest Physicians recommends steam inhalation [REF 9, SEC 6] for hydrating the airways. [REF 4, Sec 3/Expectorants]. Humidifying the bedroom at night is helpful for keeping airways moist, especially in winter when furnace is on, but you can also just take a long, hot shower. [REF 9, SEC 6]
It’s no myth: chicken soup can actually improve cold symptoms, including cough. Its anti-inflammatory effect helps sooth raw throat tissue, and it also helps keep you hydrated. Homemade is best, but canned versions of chicken soup have also been shown to relieve cold symptoms. [REF 10-Sec1]