A number of home remedies or over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help relieve a dry cough. However, it’s best to see a doctor to identify the cause in order to determine the best treatment.

A cough is a symptom of irritation in the upper respiratory system and a natural defense mechanism. You can have a wet cough (productive) or a dry cough that produces no mucus.

Both types of cough can occur in children and adults. The treatment options include home remedies and prescription medications to relieve and eliminate the causes of a dry cough.

Read on to learn about medical and natural treatments for a dry cough, as well as what can cause it.

Dry coughs can be uncomfortable. However, there are a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) medications available at your local drugstore that may help ease your cough.


Decongestants are OTC medications that treat congestion in the nose and sinuses.

When you contract a virus, such as the common cold, decongestants will constrict the blood vessels in your nose. This can reduce swelling and make it easier to breathe. They may also lessen postnasal drip.

Several types of decongestants are available, but the most common brand-name decongestants in the United States include:


It’s recommended that children under age 12 don’t take decongestants. The risk of dangerous side effects is too high. Decongestants should never be given to children under 2 because of serious side effects such as seizures and rapid heart rate.

If you’re looking for a cold medication for your child, never give them one meant for adults. Instead, choose an OTC medication specifically formulated for children and follow the manufacturer’s instructions or talk with a doctor.

Cough suppressants and expectorants

There are really two types of OTC cough medications: cough suppressants and cough expectorants.

Cough suppressants (antitussives): These medications quiet your cough by blocking your cough reflex. This is helpful for dry coughs that are painful or that keep you up at night. The primary OTC cough suppressant medication is dextromethorphan (Robitussin, Delsym, Theraflu Thin Strips Cough).

Expectorants: These are better for wet coughs and work by thinning the mucus in your airway so you can more easily cough it up. The most commonly used OTC expectorant is guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robitussin Cough Congestion, Vicks DayQuil).

Prescription medications

If OTC treatments don’t help relieve your cough, contact a doctor. Depending on the underlying condition that’s causing the cough, a doctor may prescribe:

  • an oral antihistamine for seasonal allergies
  • inhaled corticosteroids for asthma
  • antibiotics for infections
  • acid blockers for acid reflux

Some of these home remedies haven’t been extensively studied or proven effective. Instead, most of the support is anecdotal. Not all of these home remedies for dry cough are appropriate for babies and children.

Menthol cough drops

Menthol cough drops are available at most drugstores. These medicated lozenges contain compounds from the mint family. They have a powerful cooling effect that soothes irritated tissue and relaxes the cough reflex.

That said, it’s a good idea to use these sparingly. There is research suggesting that using too many menthol cough drops can actually worsen your cough.


A humidifier is a machine that adds moisture to the air. Dry air, which is common in heated homes, can aggravate inflamed throat tissue.

Using a humidifier in your bedroom at night can help loosen mucus, ease breathing, and make you more comfortable while you’re sleeping.

For young children, use a cool-mist vaporizer. Humidifiers that use heating elements and hot water could burn a child if they tip it over.

Soup, broth, tea, or another hot beverage

Warm liquids like soup and tea help add moisture while providing immediate relief for sore and scratchy throats.

Warm liquids also help keep you hydrated, which is essential to the healing process.

In general, if you have a dry cough, then fluids are your friend. Staying hydrated helps ensure your throat stays moist so it can heal properly. Aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day, but more is better.


Honey has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation in the throat. It can also help break down mucus and soothe sore throats.

Try adding honey to a cup of warm tea or warm water with lemon. Or just eat a spoonful every time the coughing returns.

A 2018 review found that honey was as effective as diphenhydramine, which is used in Benadryl, for children with a cough. However, it wasn’t as effective as dextromethorphan, which is used in Delsym and Robitussin.


Babies under the age of 12 months should not be given honey due to the risk of botulism. For older children, honey can be used to soothe a dry cough.

Saltwater gargle

Salt water soothes inflamed tissue and promotes healing. The salt can also kill bacteria in the mouth and throat.

A 2019 study found that gargling with salt water three times per day reduced the duration of a cough by 2.4 days. It also reduced the duration of vocal hoarseness, sneezing, and a blocked nose.

To make a saltwater gargle, mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt into an 8-ounce glass of warm water and take a sip. Tilt your head back and gargle gently for 30 seconds, then spit. Never swallow the salt water.


Many herbs have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce the swelling in your throat.

Herbs are also chock-full of antioxidants, which can help boost your immune system.

Herbs used to treat dry cough include:

You can add herbs to your diet by brewing them into teas or adding them to your favorite recipes. You can also look for supplements and extracts at your local health food store.

Steam inhalation

Like warm or hot water from drinks, steam from hot water can help moisturize the dry and irritated tissues in your nasal passages and throat. It can also ease irritation in sore throats and reduce coughs.

Heat water in the microwave, a kettle, or on the stove. Then, pour the water into a bowl. Place a towel over your head and the bowl, and slowly inhale the warm, moist air for 2 to 3 minutes.

You can also take a hot shower and breathe in the steam while you bathe. If you don’t need the shower but want the steam, close the door to the bathroom, turn on a hot shower, and let the steam build. Take in deep breaths of the moist air.


Don’t breathe in steam directly over a pot of boiling water. You can severely burn your skin.


Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapples. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce swollen and irritated throat tissue.

Bromelain may also help break down mucus. You can get a small dose of bromelain in a glass of pineapple juice, but many people prefer to take supplements, which have a much higher concentration.


Vitamins are organic compounds that your body needs to function properly. Different vitamins serve different purposes. For example, vitamin C plays an important role in your immune system.

To get the most bang for your buck, look for a multivitamin at your local drugstore.


Probiotics are healthy bacteria taken in supplement form that can improve your gut bacteria. They don’t help relieve a cough directly, but a healthy balance of bacteria keeps your gut healthy and strengthens your immune system so you can fight off infection.


You might think that food only irritates your stomach or gastrointestinal system, but some foods could be responsible for a dry cough.

A cough can be a symptom of food allergies. If you experience a dry cough after eating a certain type of food, avoid the food for a while to see if the coughing stops.

Acid reflux can cause a dry cough, too. High fat foods and acidic foods, like tomatoes, are frequently responsible for acid reflux. Chocolate, caffeine, and spicy foods can also worsen acid reflux symptoms like a dry cough.

Avoid irritants in the environment

When irritants enter your respiratory system, they can trigger the cough reflex and slow down the healing process. Common irritants include smoke, pollen, or perfumes.

Consider taking these measures to help make your environment less triggering:

  • Use an air purifier: Air purifiers help clear the air of allergens and irritants like dust, pollen, and pet dander.
  • Cool-mist humidifier: Dry air outside or in your home can irritate a cough. Heated air is especially irritating for coughs. A humidifier adds moisture back into the air, which can help keep your nasal passageways lubricated.
  • Eliminate smoke: Smoke from cigarettes, vaping pens, or cannabis can irritate your throat and worsen a dry cough.

More often than not, a dry cough is the result of a virus. It’s not uncommon for a dry cough to continue for weeks after a cold or flu.

Compounding cold and flu season is the fact that home heating systems can cause dry air. Breathing dry air can irritate your throat and prolong healing time.

Other common causes of a dry cough include:

In addition, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor medications can cause chronic dry cough in about 3.9% to 35% of people, depending on the population.

Rarely, a persistent dry cough may be the result of a more serious condition, such as pulmonary fibrosis or lung cancer.

What is the fastest way to cure a dry cough?

There isn’t necessarily a quick fix for a dry cough. How long you have it can depend on the cause and what treatment you try. If you feel that natural remedies aren’t doing the job fast enough, see a doctor for an evaluation.

What reduces dry cough?

There are many things you can try to get some relief from a dry cough. You can try drinking tea with honey at home or buy an OTC decongestant, for example. A doctor can prescribe stronger medication if needed.

How can I stop a dry cough at night?

You can use many of the same home remedies or medical treatments. Some OTC and prescription medications may be specifically geared for nighttime coughing. In addition, it might help if you incline your bed to position your head higher than your stomach. If acid reflux is the cause, then this will help your stomach acid recede back into the stomach when you sleep.

Does COVID-19 cause dry cough?

A dry cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19.

How long can a dry cough last?

Most coughs go away within about 3 weeks. Contact a doctor if your cough lasts more than 2 months, gets worse, or is accompanied by other symptoms.

A dry cough is usually a symptom of a cold or flu virus, although it can be caused by other conditions.

In most cases, you can treat a dry cough at home with OTC medications or home remedies like humidifiers and saltwater gargles.

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