How to Cope With a Cough

Coughs are annoying, embarrassing, irritating and can even be painful. Unfortunately, they come around frequently when we have colds, the flu and pretty much any other respiratory illness. Here, we will look at some things you can do to get relief from that bothersome cough.

However, if you have a cough that is caused by asthma, COPD or another chronic lung condition, this list probably isn't for you. Be sure to follow your doctor's advice on treating your cough if you fall into one of these categories.

We typically cough because our airways are irritated or trying to expel foreign material (such as mucus). Although it is annoying, a cough is quite useful because it helps to remove the mucus from our lungs and airways that shouldn't be there. Without coughing, we would be more likely to get secondary infections such as pneumonia.

Over the Counter Cough Medications

Woman coughing on the street
How do you cope with a cough?. Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images


The most useful of the over the counter cough medications are expectorants. Rather than stopping a cough, expectorants help thin and loosen the mucus in your body, making your cough more effective and productive. The faster you can get the mucus out of your head and lungs, the sooner you will feel better.


Over the counter cough suppressants are a popular choice when you have a cough that seems like it just won't stop. Unfortunately, most research has shown that they are pretty ineffective. Children should not take cough suppressants as they have no proven benefit and can cause dangerous side effects.

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Prescription Cough Medications

Cough Suppressants

If you have a constant dry cough that has not been relieved by any other means and you are having trouble sleeping or functioning because of it, your health care provider may prescribe a prescription cough suppressant. Although they can help quiet the cough, they should not be used frequently because you don't want to cause a secondary infection.


Bronchodilators are prescription medications frequently used by people with asthma. They open up the airways so you can breathe more easily. Occasionally they will be prescribed for people without asthma if your health care provider believes your airways are swollen and the medication may benefit you.


Humidifiers are great to have, especially during the winter months when we run heaters in our homes and the air is dryer than it is during the summer. Dry air can be irritating to our bodies and adding some moisture to the air with a humidifier can help reduce some of that irritation. Be sure to get one that is appropriate for your family (households with young children should avoid warm mist humidifiers) and clean them properly so they do not grow and spread germs.

Adding moisture to the air, especially when you sleep at night, can help calm an irritating cough.

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Honey for Cough and Sore Throat

Honey is a natural, inexpensive way to soothe a cough and sore throat caused by irritation. It coats the throat and helps calm down the cough. It is not a cure, but in a study done in children, it performed better at calming a cough than over the counter cough suppressants.

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Drink Plenty of Fluids

We have all heard that we should drink plenty of fluids when we are sick, but why? The fact is that increasing your fluid intake - either by drinking more water, eating broth based soups or eating foods with high water content (such as watermelon) - can help this the mucus your body is producing, making it easier to expel. The thinner the mucus is and the faster you can get it out of your body, the sooner you will feel better. So drink up! Just avoid alcohol and too many caffeinated drinks, because they can have the opposite effect.

Cover Your Cough

When you have a cough, the last thing you want to do is cough all over the people around you. Besides being just plain rude, you could be spreading your germs to someone who is more likely to suffer serious complications than you are. Do your part to avoid making other people sick and cover your cough.

Learn how to cover your cough properly so you don't end up spreading the germs to other people without even realizing it.


"How Is Cough Treated?" Cough Treatments 1 Oct 10. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health 12 Oct 13.

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