15 home remedies to treat a dry cough

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What is dry cough? Firstly, coughing is a reflex to clear your airway from irritants and mucus. When a cough is dry (also known as a nonproductive cough), it does not produce phlegm, mucus, or other substances during the action.

Many things may cause a dry cough in your system. A continuous dry cough, however, may become a source of disturbance to your everyday activities. Usually, doctors classify a cough as chronic if it lasts more than 8 weeks.

In this article, we will take a look at the typical causes and discover home remedies for dry cough, that they may serve as an alternative to over-the-counter medication.

Dry cough causes

There are several causes of a dry cough, and these are some of the common reasons for its occurrence.


This is a long-term condition, affecting both children and adults. In this, a person with asthma has airways that swell and become narrow. Then, it may result in symptoms such as cough, wheeze, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

While asthma-related coughs can be both productive and non-productive, the coughs are usually the dry type. A type of asthma, known as cough variant asthma, includes chronic dry cough as the main symptom.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

This is a type of chronic acid reflux, whereas the stomach acid returns into the oesophagus. As this irritates the oesophagus, the cough reflex is engaged. GERD is often accompanied by heartburn, chest pain, regurgitation of food or liquid, and the feeling of a lump at the back of the throat.

Postnasal drip

In this situation, extra mucus is dripping down your throat. This can happen when you have a cold or experience some allergies, causing increased mucus production.

Then, unlike healthy mucus, this watery mucus drips to the back of your throat, tickling the nerves and triggering a cough. Generally, this would persist in the form of throat irritation, runny nose, or coughing at night.

Viral infection

It is common for a cough to linger after a viral infection, even after other symptoms have been alleviated. Post-cold coughs (usually dry) can last up to 2 months. This is due to the oversensitivity of the airway after a viral illness. Coughing would only increase the irritation in the throat, so it is best to soothe or limit the coughing so that there is a better chance for the airway to heal.

Upper respiratory infection (URI)

An acute upper respiratory infection (URI) is a virus or bacteria which infects the nose, throat and bronchi. Aside from the common cold, URIs include sinusitis, pharyngitis, and tracheobronchitis. This infection usually presents itself with coughing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing.


If you have an allergy, this may cause symptoms such as coughing. Symptoms may also include itchy or watery eyes, along with a runny nose.


With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic at the end of 2019, one of the most common symptoms is a dry cough. Approximately 60 to 70 per cent of persons experience it when infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting tested for Covid-19 if there is a persistent cough or other related symptoms.

Other causes

Aside from the above list, dry cough may be caused by:

  • Environmental issues such as smoke, pollution, dust, pollen, or other chemicals
  • ACE inhibitors are prescription drugs used to treat conditions like high blood pressure
  • Whooping cough
  • Collapsed lung, is when the lung suddenly deflates (either on its own or in response to a chest injury)
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart failure
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a rare condition which stiffens and scars the tissues in one’s lungs

Home remedies to cure dry cough

Having established the various causes of a dry cough, here are some home remedies to soothe and relieve the symptoms. However, do note that some home remedies may interfere with ongoing prescribed medications, so you should always consult your doctor before taking these accordingly.

1 – Honey

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Honey may be used to suppress a cough (it has been compared to dextromethorphan). Honey may even prevent the need for antibiotics. A person may swallow a spoonful of honey or use it in a warm drink, such as honey lemon or herbal tea.

2 – Ginger

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Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help alleviate dry cough. Ginger has had a long-lasting involvement in traditional Asian medicines for its usefulness. It can also be used for nausea and pain relief. Ginger is often added to dishes or drunk in tea. However, in some persons, ginger tea may incur stomach upset or heartburn.

3 – Hot fluids

The hot fluid is generally a good intake for persons experiencing a cough, flu, sore throat, or fatigue. Usually, the symptoms are relieved immediately and remain for some time. Among the example items which may produce relief are clear broths, herbal teas, warm water, and warm fruit juices.

4 – Steam

To utilise steam, a person may take a hot shower to allow the room to fill with steam. Alternatively, you may make a steam bowl by filling a large bowl with hot water. Then, add suitable herbs or essential oils which can help to relieve congestion. Lean over the bowl and place a towel over the head. This would trap the steam so that you can breathe it in. Carry out this practice for 10 – 15 minutes.

5 – Gargling

Gargling salt water helps with a sore throat and a cough caused by the common cold. Saltwater draws moisture away from the area of soreness, helping to reduce irritation.

6 – Marshmallow root

This is a herb which can ease irritation from coughing, as it has high mucilage content. This is a substance that coats and alleviates throat infection. In addition, this extract has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. It is commonly available as a dried herb or a bagged tea.

7 – Bromelain

This is an enzyme that is present in pineapples, mostly in the core of the fruit. As it has anti-inflammatory properties, people like to drink pineapple juice as a form of relief. However, bromelain supplements may be more effective due to the higher enzyme concentration.

8 – Thyme

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Thyme has been used for medicinal properties in remedies for cough, sore throat, and digestive issues. Usually, to treat a cough with thyme, a person would seek cough syrups containing this herb. Otherwise, there can also be a combination of thyme and ivy drops for ingestion.

9 – Diet

A dry cough may be developed as a reaction to food allergies. If certain foods are making you cough, it may be best to avoid or limit eating them. If you are not able to find out what foods, in particular, are causing it, a food diary may help to narrow down the possibilities. 

For instance, foods that are high in histamines may trigger respiratory allergy symptoms. If this is the case, avoid consuming alcohol, pickled foods, shellfish, and more.

If you have acid reflux, common foods and beverages that usually trigger the reaction are citrus foods, fried and fatty foods, spices, alcohol, and caffeine.

10 – Slippery elm

As a substance that has similar properties to marshmallow root, it is also used to soothe a cough. This may be prepared in the form of tea, by adding a teaspoon of the dried herb to a cup of hot water. It is available in powder and capsule form.

11 – N-acetylcysteine (NAC)

This is a supplement based on the amino acid L-cysteine. Ingesting this may reduce inflammation of the airways. However, as NAC can have severe side effects, such as hives, swelling, fever, and difficulty breathing, seek the advice of a doctor beforehand consuming these.

12 – Probiotics

While this may not directly lead to relieving a cough, probiotics can boost the immune system. A strong immune system is more effective in fighting infections. Supplements containing Lactobacillus may be considered. Meanwhile, foods rich in probiotics include miso soup, natural yoghurt, and kimchi.

13 – Liquorice Root

Liquorice root tea is said to alleviate pain, clear phlegm, and ease cough. It is referred to as gancao in traditional Chinese medicine. It is important to note that prolonged use may bring about an increase in blood pressure, irregular menstrual activity, fatigue, headaches, water retention, and erectile dysfunction.

14 – Turmeric

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Turmeric is well-known for its mild antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Taking turmeric orally may ease a cough. While turmeric tea is often well-tolerated by the body, overuse of turmeric capsules may induce stomach upset, diarrhoea, and nausea.

15 – Garlic

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Similar to turmeric, garlic has mild antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties as well. Garlic is believed to relieve cough. Though research is sparse on the treatment of cough with garlic intake, garlic is generally safe to consume and there is no harm in attempting to eat it, accordingly.

Dry cough in seniors

Generally, older people are more susceptible to disease and underlying conditions, such as those which have been listed in the earlier part of this article.

Preventing infection is often found in the following ways, such as practising good hygiene, moderate exercise and eating a healthy diet. This would mean regular washing of hands, moderate-intensity physical activity, and having a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and fibre-rich foods.

Getting in-home care services to help with medication & food preparation

Seniors must take their medications as prescribed and consume well-balanced meals. In cases where the family or friends are not able to help out in this aspect regularly,  Homage provides caregiving services for your loved ones at every stage.

This article was first published in Homage.