Few things can be as frustrating as a dry cough that won’t go away.
With wet coughs or productive coughs—when you expel mucus or phlegm—there’s at least a sense of progress as you get rid of the possible cause of your hacking.
But there’s no such luck with an unproductive cough.
Thankfully, there are several dry cough remedies you can try at home for some much-needed relief, and many of these therapies you likely already have on hand.
In this article, first we’ll explore the basics of dry cough, including the symptoms and causes.
Then we’ll discuss 10 natural and home remedies for dry cough before wrapping up with when to see a doctor about your cough.
Dry Cough Basics
A dry cough isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.
So before we discuss how to manage a dry cough, let’s look at the symptoms to watch out for and potential reasons for a dry cough.
The main symptom of a dry cough is a cough that produces no mucus or phlegm.
You cough and cough, but the itchy throat remains and nothing comes out.
Sometimes a dry cough can lead to a headache, stomach pain, or dry heaving.
Depending on the cause of your cough, you may also experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep disturbance
Coughing is often the body’s response to irritation in the throat.
So a wide variety of throat irritants can cause a dry cough.
Some of the most common causes of a dry cough are:
- Viral illnesses like the common cold or COVID-19
- Seasonal allergies (postnasal drip)
- Choking due to a foreign item or particles in the throat
- Environmental irritants like smoke or harsh scents
- Acid reflux
Less often, a dry cough may be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.
Some rare causes of dry cough are:
- ACE inhibitor medication
- Whooping cough
- Lung cancer
- Heart failure
At-Home and Natural Treatments for Dry Cough
The following treatments and natural home remedies may work for acute dry coughs but are not effective for chronic coughs due to illnesses other than upper respiratory tract infections.
Also keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for another.
If your mom served you chicken noodle soup when you were sick as a kid, she was on to something: Chicken soup appears to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may explain why it seems to soothe a sore throat.
The warm broth and spices may also help alleviate other symptoms for those who have the flu.
Tea can be a welcome source of hydration when you’re battling a dry cough.
Plus the warmth may relieve a sore throat and loosen phlegm in the throat.
Green tea in particular may be a cough suppressant.
In one study, gargling green tea reduced coughing among patients who’d been intubated for coronary bypass surgery.
Salt is known in natural health circles for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, hence salt water’s popularity as a natural remedy for the flu.
One study has even shown that using a nasal saline rinse (or nasal irrigation) and gargling with salt water may reduce how long a cough lasts.
And even if it doesn’t cure your cough, a warm saltwater gargle may help alleviate a sore throat.
For this home remedy, just combine half a teaspoon of salt with eight ounces of warm water and stir until the salt dissolves.
Use this to gargle just like you would mouthwash.
A spoonful of honey can be a great addition to herbal teas when fighting a dry cough.
Several studies have shown that honey may be as effective at suppressing coughs as pharmaceutical cough suppressants are.
However, be cautious when using this home remedy for kids.
Do not give honey to children under 1 year old, as this puts them at risk of botulism, which can cause serious illness or death.
Cough drops or lozenges work to reduce the discomfort from dry coughs and a sore throat.
They typically contain menthol as a chief ingredient.
Some brands may also contain peppermint, eucalyptus oil, or honey.
A word of caution, though: Don’t overdo the cough drops.
A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that overusing cough drops may make your dry cough last longer.
Like honey, do not give lozenges to kids under 1 year old.
And if you do give them to toddlers, be watchful, as they can be a choking hazard.
Cough suppressants or decongestants
Cough suppressants may bring some relief from the constant hacking of a dry, unproductive cough.
A popular over-the-counter choice is dextromethorphan (Delsym).
However, some studies have shown that dextromethorphan is not the most effective medication for acute cough.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which cough medicine may be best for you, as many have side effects or are harmful if you have certain health conditions or take other medications.
And while an expectorant like guaifenesin (Mucinex) may help with a wet cough because it decongests the chest and makes mucus or phlegm easier to expel, expectorants are not useful for dry cough.
With a persistent dry cough, the throat can become irritated, and swallowing may be painful.
Staying hydrated with fluids may ease the discomfort.
Choose nourishing fluids like warm water, broths, fresh fruit juices, and hot tea for proper rehydration.
Avoid caffeinated drinks, which may make it harder to fall asleep or rest well.
Probiotics are “good bacteria” that balance out the gastrointestinal flora, thereby contributing to overall immune system health.
A recent study suggests that probiotics may help prevent viral infections that can cause dry cough.
However, it’s unknown at this time which specific strains of probiotics are best for dry cough.
Bromelain is a combination of protein-digesting enzymes commonly found in pineapple stems.
One study showed that bromelain may work to suppress cough and relieve sinusitis and allergic reactions that can lead to coughs.
You can get bromelain from pineapple juice, and it is also available as a supplement.
However, if you take blood thinners, you should not use bromelain supplements.
Humidifier or steam
Dry air can trigger those annoying dry coughs, especially if you live in a dry region or it’s the middle of winter.
Using a humidifier or doing steam inhalations may relieve your cough.
Humidifiers add moisture to the surrounding air, and steaming in the shower has a similar effect.
Adding essential oils like eucalyptus or peppermint to your warm shower, hot water bowl, or humidifier may make your steam session more effective.
When to See a Doctor
Wet or dry, coughs come and go.
But if you’re experiencing any of the following, it’s time to leave the home remedies at home and see a doctor:
- Cough lasting two weeks or longer
- Cough with blood or foul-smelling mucus
- Problems breathing
- Very high fever of 101˚F (38˚C) or above
- General sickness beyond a cough
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Effectiveness of Honey for Symptomatic Relief in Upper Respiratory Tract Infections: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. (2021).
Green Tea Gargling Effect on Cough & Hoarseness After Coronary Artery Bypass Graft. (2015).
Menthol Cough Drops: Cause for Concern? (2018).
Over-the-Counter Medications for Acute Cough Symptoms. (2008).
Prophylactic Effects of Probiotics on Respiratory Viruses Including COVID-19: A Review. (2021).
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