A dry cough: the best household remedies


A dry cough following a cold can sometimes last for weeks and become a real source of misery. Household remedies can help. The classics include honey and onion juice.

What is a dry cough?

It sounds like a bark, often comes in attacks, and makes restful sleep impossible: a dry cough is annoying. An oncoming cold or flu is the most common cause of a dry cough because pathogens attack the mucous membranes. By coughing, our body tries to get rid of the pathogens.

A productive cough cleans the respiratory tract

Normally, however, after a few days, this dry cough turns into a cough that expels phlegm from the body – a protective reflex that cleans the respiratory tract and helps it to recover. Doctors refer to this as a productive cough.

Coughing is a useful defence mechanism and the body's way of clearing the airways of everything that doesn't belong there.
Dr. med. Peter Kardos, pulmonologist

Symptoms of a cough

  • Hard and forceful exhalation (triggered by the coughing reflex or randomly)
  • Acute or chronic (if longer than 8 weeks)
  • Productive (cough with secretion) or unproductive (dry cough)

What causes a dry cough?

Besides being the start of a cold or flu, a dry cough can also be caused by irritation of the lower respiratory tract, such as the larynx, trachea or lungs. Other causes are foreign bodies in the respiratory tract, an inflammation of the respiratory tract (asthma, bronchitis or laryngitis) or inhaled pollutants such as smoke, gas, dust or chemicals.

The best home remedies for a persistent dry cough

A dry cough, on the other hand, is defined as a non-productive cough. It no longer contributes to recovery and can even be harmful to the mucous membranes. While productive coughing should not be suppressed, it makes sense to stop or at least contain a dry cough. Alongside some over-the-counter products from the pharmacy or drugstore, household remedies are popular.

Household remedies for persistent dry coughs

Whether the household remedies work has not been conclusively proven in all cases. Nevertheless, they're worth a try – and if they actually help, all the better.

Onion syrup

Home-made onion syrup is one of the most common traditional remedies for a dry cough. It is said to kill germs and relieve inflammation. To make the syrup, cut an onion into small pieces and bring it to the boil with rock sugar. Leave to stand for a while (or over night), pass through a cloth and take several spoonfuls of the liquid a day as cough syrup.

Alternative: Buckhorn plantain cough syrup

Warm milk and honey

Another traditional natural home remedy against dry coughs is a mixture of warm milk and honey. Honey has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and milk has a soothing effect on the sore throat that often accompanies a dry cough. To prepare, simply boil the milk and stir in a spoonful of honey.

Drink, drink, drink

Medicinal plant teas containing mucilage have an anti-inflammatory and soothing effect. Well-known examples include marshmallow tea, Icelandic moss, mallow tea, thyme tea and buckhorn plantain tea. These lend themselves to both drinking and gargling. Make sure to cover the teas while steeping so that the plants' essential oils don't escape with the steam.

By the way: essential oils can also be an effective home remedy. They can be infused with hot water and inhaled or rubbed on the chest as a tincture.

Sleep hygiene: e.g. air the bedroom well

Dry heating air can make a dry cough even worse at night. For this reason, make sure there is enough humidity in the bedroom, by placing a bowl of water on the heater, for example. It’s also important to air the bedroom well, and keep it cool and free of dust. If possible, sleep with the upper body raised.

When to see a doctor?

Household remedies can certainly help cure a dry cough and alleviate symptoms. Children, however, should be checked by a doctor. Sufferers should also see a doctor if the dry cough lasts longer than a week and is accompanied by a fever.

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