To treat a wet cough at home, a doctor may recommend steps to break up mucus, such as drinking plenty of fluids and using cough drops and honey.
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’ll 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.
Your cough reflex is easily triggered by mucus.
A wet, productive cough is almost always a symptom 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 typical. When it’s in your chest, this mucus is called phlegm.
When phlegm accumulates in your chest, it can be hard to breathe. 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. A wet cough typically resolves without treatment. In the meantime, here are home remedies you can consider to help you feel better as your cough runs its course.
Some natural home remedies for wet cough may include:
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 may be more prone to irritation and inflammation. Phlegm in the respiratory tract becomes thinner and easier to move out of the lungs.
Taking a steamy shower can help 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 5 minutes. You can repeat as needed.
Natural bee honey is one of the most effective ways of treating a wet cough. According to a review published in 2021, honey may help treat upper respiratory infections and acute cough more effectively than conventional medications. However, the authors of the review still note that more research is needed on this end.
Honey shouldn’t be given to infants under
Herbal cough drops
Some cough drops may also contain menthol, which can help cool your airways.
While this antioxidant doesn’t necessarily prevent colds, vitamin C does boost the immune system and may help reduce the length of a cold. While more research is needed,
Try eating an orange or drinking some fresh orange juice every day during cold season.
Staying hydrated and avoiding dehydration is
Nasal irrigation or neti pot
A neti pot is a convenient way of performing nasal irrigation, in which you pour saline into your nostrils.
However, if you use nasal irrigation, be sure to use filtered water rather than tap water, which may contain harmful bacteria, according to the
Ginger is packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, according to a
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.
Always check with a medical professional or doctor before using essential oils, as they can interact with other medications and supplements.
Coughs are one of the most common reasons for visiting the pediatrician. Typically, viral infections 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 mild symptoms at home with many of the natural cough remedies discussed in this article. To treat cough in infants and toddlers, talk with a pediatrician about the following remedies:
Let a hot shower run for a few minutes and bring your child to breathe the steam for no longer than 5 to 10 minutes.
Honey is a safe and effective treatment for upper respiratory infections in children over the age of 1 because of its potential antimicrobial properties. It may also help soothe an inflamed throat. Honey shouldn’t be given to infants under
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.
According to the FDA,
Proper hydration is very important for sick infants and toddlers. If your baby is breastfeeding, try to schedule more frequent feedings than you typically do. This will help keep your baby’s throat moist and help keep them well hydrated. Toddlers should be encouraged to drink water or an electrolyte-based drink.
Most wet coughs will go away on their own. But 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
Seek urgent medical care if you have difficulty with breathing or eating or if you cough up blood.
If your child has certain symptoms along with a wet cough, they may need urgent medical attention. These symptoms may include:
- a fever over 102°F
- trouble breathing
- a bluish tone to their skin or fingernails
- trouble waking up
The age of your child may affect whether or not they need urgent medical care. It’s always best to check in with a doctor if an infant or baby is sick. If the infant is under 3 months old and experiencing a wet cough or under 6 months old and experiencing a fever, they should see a doctor.
If your child has a wet cough, take them to a doctor if they show any of the following:
- are coughing for more than two weeks
- make a “whoop” sound when they cough
- have violent coughing attacks
- other concerning symptoms
If your child has severe or concerning symptoms, they may need urgent or emergency medical care.
If you or your child is having trouble breathing, this may be a medical emergency. Seek urgent medical care by calling 911 or your local emergency services or by visiting an emergency room.
Most wet coughs are caused by viral infections. Sometimes these infections can progress into something more serious. Other causes of wet cough can include:
- chronic bronchitis
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- cystic fibrosis
- environmental irritants
- whooping cough
- croup cough
A doctor will be able to diagnose your cough based on your symptoms and a physical exam. Occasionally, they may want to run more tests. Tests that may be used to diagnose coughs include:
The following includes frequently asked questions on wet coughs.
How long does it take for a wet cough to go away?
The course of a wet cough depends on the underlying cause, treatment, and whether any complications develop. As a rule of thumb, an acute case may take up to
Is a wet cough contagious?
A cough itself isn’t contagious. However, it may be a symptom of a contagious infection. Depending on the exact cause of your cough, your illness may be contagious for a few days or longer. For example, the common cold may be contagious for a few days or up to 2 weeks, while bacterial infections such as whooping cough may be contagious for
Is a wet cough a good thing?
Having a productive, or wet, cough means that your body is trying to get rid of mucus in your chest. Being able to break up the mucus and transition from a wet cough to more of a dry cough may be a sign that the underlying illness may be clearing up.
Any wet cough that lasts longer than a couple of weeks may need to be checked by a doctor. Long-lasting wet coughs may increase your risk of developing a chest infection.
A wet cough typically occurs as a symptom of a viral infection.
These infections usually go away on their own. But you may want to consider seeing a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or if your cough worsens or lasts longer than a couple weeks.
While expectorant medications, which loosen up mucus so that it can be coughed up, can help reduce severe mucus accumulation in the chest, you may be able to use the above natural remedies to treat the symptoms of a cough.
Many of these remedies are also safe for infants and toddlers, but it may be a good idea to talk with a pediatrician before using them.