If you’ve had a cough for less than 3 weeks, it’s best to try and treat it at home. But what’s the best way to relieve a cough?
In this article, you’ll find guidance to help you minimise the discomfort or pain caused by a mild cough.
Why am I coughing?
Coughing is a natural reflex of the body. It helps you clear your airways of phlegm and allows you to breathe properly. Most dry or chesty coughs develop in response to a mild viral infection like the common cold.
The good news is that most coughs clear up after 2 to 3 weeks, so there’s usually no need to go to a doctor unless you:
- have chest pain
- find that you’re coughing up blood in your phlegm
- find it hard to breathe
- have a weakened immune system
- have a cough that lasts for more than 3 weeks
Self-care guidance for treating a cough
Get plenty of rest
It’s best to start by making sure your body gets plenty of rest. Doing so helps to support your immune system and encourages your body to fight off viral infections. Resting in bed can also prevent you spreading your cough to other people, but you don’t necessarily need to stay home from work or school.
In fact, there’s no evidence to suggest that carrying on with everyday activities prolongs a cough. You may find that you feel better for going about your day as normal. As long as you avoid strenuous exercise and try to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, your cough should start to clear up on its own.
If you’re having trouble sleeping because of a cough, the Healthily app offers tailored support and advice that’s designed to help you get plenty of rest. Why not download the app here?
Drinking plenty of fluids may help to ease the pain caused by a dry cough. You may also need to treat any other symptoms you have. If you’re suffering from a fever or coughing up phlegm, drink plenty of water or herbal tea to keep your body hydrated. If you have a sore throat from coughing, try gargling with salt water to ease it.
What about lemon and honey drinks?
Some people find it helpful to drink warm lemon and honey drinks. There’s no clinical evidence to show that these drinks are more effective than water, but you may find they offer some additional relief.
You can make your own lemon and honey drink by:
- squeezing a little lemon juice into a cup of boiled water
- adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey
- allowing it to reach a safe temperature before drinking
Note: Lemon and honey drinks are not suitable for children under the age of 6 months.
Take pain medication
A doctor may advise taking painkillers such as paracetamol to help relieve a sore throat. Speak to a pharmacist or doctor for further guidance before taking any painkillers and how to get and use them.
Some people use cough syrups, but these medications aren’t recommended because there's little evidence to suggest they are any better than simple home remedies.
Cough syrups and cough medications from the pharmacy are not suitable for children under 6 years old. If you have any questions or concerns about a new medication, you can always ask a pharmacist for advice.
Smoking can make your cough worse and increase your risk of chest congestion and coughs, so it’s best to stop smoking if you can. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking, take a look at this article, which outlines 4 steps you can take to kick the habit today.