What is a wet cough?

A wet cough is any cough that brings up phlegm. It’s also called a productive cough because you can feel the excess phlegm moving up and out of your lungs. After productive coughs, you will feel phlegm in your mouth.

The cough reflex is a defense mechanism that helps protect your body from irritants, like dust in the air. When your nervous system detects an irritant in your airways, it warns your brain. Your brain sends a message to the muscles in your chest and abdomen, telling them to contract and push out a burst of air. Unfortunately, your cough reflex is easily triggered by mucus.

A wet, productive cough is almost always a sign of a viral or bacterial infection, especially in children. When you have an upper respiratory infection, like a cold or flu, your body produces more mucus than normal. In your nose, you may call this mucus “snot.” But in your chest, it’s called phlegm.

When phlegm accumulates in your chest it can be hard to breath. You may cough more at night, because phlegm accumulates at the back of your throat when you lie down. Although it can disrupt sleep, a wet cough is usually nothing to worry about. Viruses take time to run their course, so your cough may last several weeks, but it will usually resolve without treatment.

Wet coughs are usually caused by a virus. There isn’t much a doctor can do but recommend tips for alleviating the symptoms. Save yourself a trip to the doctor with these natural home remedies for wet cough:


A humidifier can help you avoid breathing in dry air. This is particularly helpful at night, when the throat naturally dries out. A dry throat is more prone to irritation and inflammation. Phlegm in the respiratory tract becomes thinner and easier to move out of the lungs.

Steamy shower

A steamy shower can help you moisten your upper airways. It may also help break up the mucus in your chest. Try to stay in the shower or in a steamy bathroom for at least five minutes. You can repeat as needed.


Natural bee’s honey is one of the most effective ways of treating a wet cough. A small clinical trial found that eating 1.5 teaspoons of honey 30 minutes before bed can help reduce cough and encourage sound sleep in children. It should work just as well for adults.

Herbal cough drops

You can try natural cough drops made with honey, lemon, eucalyptus, sage, thyme, or peppermint.

Vitamin C

A big dose of vitamin C can boost the immune system and help you fight off a viral infection faster. Try eating an orange or drinking some fresh orange juice twice per day until your symptoms improve.

Geranium extract

Research shows that geranium extract may help treat cough, cold, and bronchitis. Try adding geranium essential oil to a diffuser. But note that it is possible to be allergic to geranium oil.


Staying hydrated is extremely important when you’re fighting off an infection. It also keeps your throat from drying out and becoming irritated or inflamed. Aim to drink at least 10 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.

Netti pot

A netti pot is a convenient way of performing nasal irrigation, in which you pour saline into your nostrils. Research shows that nasal irrigation is good for more than just a stuffy nose, it can reduce the symptoms of wet cough in both children and adults. It can also sooth sore throats.

Ginger tea

Ginger is packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A few cups of ginger tea per day may help sooth inflammation in your throat while keeping you hydrated.

Thyme and clove tea

Research shows that both thyme and clove have antimicrobial properties. Either as essential oils or tinctures, they may help your body fight off an upper respiratory infection. Add fresh thyme and clove leaves to boiling water. Allow to boil for 10 minutes, then strain and serve.

Coughs are one of the most common reasons for visiting the pediatrician. There is typically little the doctor can do, as these are viral infections that must run their course. If your baby is under 2 months old, it’s a good idea to bring them to the doctor if you observe a cough.

Otherwise, you can treat your child’s symptoms at home with many of the natural cough remedies discussed in this article. To treat cough in infants and toddlers, try the following remedies:

Steamy bathroom

Let a hot shower run for a few minutes and bring your child in to breath the steam for no longer than 5 to 10 minutes.


Honey is a safe and effective treatment for children over the age of 1. Honey should not be given to infants under 1 because it can cause botulism.

Nasal irrigation

Nasal irrigation is safe for children and toddlers. For infants and small babies, it’s easier to use one bulb syringe to squirt saline into the nose and a second one to suction the nasal passageways.


Humidifiers are a great way to keep the air in your child’s bedroom moist. Many parents keep humidifiers running in their infants’ rooms.


Proper hydration is very important for sick infants and toddlers. If your baby is breastfeeding, try to schedule more frequent feedings than normal. This will help keep your baby’s throat moist. Toddlers should be encouraged to drink water or an electrolyte-based drink, such as Pedialyte.

Most wet coughs will go away on their own. Unfortunately, this can take a while. Your cough may linger for several weeks and may turn into a dry cough at some point. As long as it seems to be improving, rather than getting worse, you probably don’t need to see a doctor.

If your cough is getting progressively worse or if it doesn’t improve after three weeks, see a doctor. Make an appointment with a doctor if you are unable to breath or eat, or if you cough up blood.

Take your child to the doctor if they:

  • are under 3 months old
  • have a fever (infants under 6 months) or a fever over 102°F
  • are having trouble breathing
  • are turning blue
  • have trouble waking up
  • make a “whoop” sound when they cough
  • have violent coughing attacks

Most wet coughs are caused by viral infections. Sometimes these infections can progress into something more serious. Other causes of wet cough include:

Your doctor will be able to diagnose your cough based on your symptoms and a physical exam. Occasionally, your doctor may want to run more tests. Tests that may be used to diagnose coughs include:

Wet cough is typically a symptom of a viral infection. Infections usually go away on their own. You can use natural remedies to treat the symptoms of cough. Many of these remedies are also safe for infants and toddlers.