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Sometimes, winter means hitting the slopes with your friends, building a snowman, and snuggling up by the fire. Other times, it means runny noses and cabin fever.
Dry coughs can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are a variety of solutions available at your local drugstore. If you want to skip the doctor’s office and treat your dry cough at home, consider the following remedies.
Decongestants are over-the-counter (OTC) medications that treat congestion in the nose and sinuses.
When you contract a virus, such as the common cold, the lining of your nose swells up and blocks the passage of air. Decongestants work by constricting blood vessels in the nose, which reduces blood flow to the swollen tissue.
As the swelling subsides, it becomes easier to breathe. Decongestants may also help reduce postnasal drip.
It’s recommended that children under age 12 don’t take decongestants. The risk of dangerous side effects is too high. Decongestants are never given to children under 2 because of serious complications such as seizures and rapid heart rate.
If you’re looking for a cold medicine 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.
Cough suppressants and expectorants
Although your local drugstore probably carries a wide variety of brands and formulations, there are really only two types of OTC cough medicine available: cough suppressants and cough expectorants.
Cough suppressants (antitussives) quiet your cough by blocking your cough reflex. This is helpful for dry coughs that are painful or keeping you up at night.
Expectorants are better for wet coughs. They work by thinning the mucus in your airway so you can more easily cough it up. You may already have some natural expectorants at home, too.
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.
A humidifier is a machine that adds moisture to the air. Dry air, which is common in heated homes, further aggravates inflamed throat tissue. Try using a humidifier in your bedroom at night to make you more comfortable and help you heal faster.
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.
When irritants enter your respiratory system, they can trigger the cough reflex and slow down the healing process. Common irritants include:
- cleaning products
- pet hair
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.
Gargle salt water
Salt water soothes inflamed tissue and promotes healing.
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 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.
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.
Herbs used to treat dry cough include:
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.
Drink plenty of fluids
If you have a dry cough, then fluids are your friend. Staying hydrated will help ensure your throat stays moist so it can heal properly. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water per day, but more is better.
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.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can improve your gut bacteria. A healthy balance of bacteria not only keeps your gut healthy, but also strengthens your immune system so you can fight off infection.
Probiotics are available as a dietary supplement at most drugstores, or you can find them in yogurts containing live active cultures. Just look for the ingredient lactobacillus. Here are some yogurt brands that have it.
More often than not, 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 the throat and prolong healing time.
Other common causes of dry cough include the following:
- Asthma causes the airways to swell and narrow. It can cause dry cough along with symptoms like trouble breathing and wheezing.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) is a type of chronic acid reflux that can cause damage to the esophagus. Irritation in the esophagus can trigger the cough reflex.
- Postnasal drip is a symptom of the common cold and seasonal allergies. Mucus drips down the back of the throat, activating the cough reflex.
- Allergies and irritants in the air can trigger the cough reflex, prolong healing time, or cause an overproduction of mucus. Common irritants include smoke, pollen, and pet hair.
- ACE inhibitor medications, such as enalapril (Vasotec) and lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), are prescription drugs that cause chronic dry cough in about 20 percent of people.
- Whooping cough is a contagious respiratory infection that causes a characteristic dry cough with a “whoop” sound as you gasp for air.
COVID-19 and dry cough
Dry cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. Other common symptoms include fever and shortness of breath.
- Stay home.
- Separate yourself from all family members and pets.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Wear a cloth mask if physical distancing isn’t possible.
- Stay in touch with your doctor.
- Call ahead before seeking medical attention.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Avoid sharing household items with other people in the house.
- Disinfect common surfaces.
You should also be monitoring your symptoms while at home. You should seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- trouble breathing or talking
- heaviness or tightness in the chest
- bluish lips
A persistent dry cough is rarely a sign of a medical emergency. But see a healthcare provider right away if you have a fever, chest pain, or trouble breathing.
Otherwise, make an appointment with your doctor if your cough lasts longer than 2 months or seems to worsen over time.
The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you don’t already have a doctor.
A dry, hacking cough can be very annoying, but it usually isn’t a sign of anything serious.
Most dry coughs can be treated at home with OTC medications like cough suppressants and throat lozenges. There are also several home remedies that help promote healing, such as adding moisture to the air with a humidifier or gargling with salt water.