The symptoms of a cold subside on their own in a one week or less. Symptoms of seasonal flu take a little longer. In a few weeks, you’re ready to go. But what do you do when your runny nose, sneezing, and headache are gone, but you’re still coughing?
From my clinical experience, coughs caused by common viruses go away on their own in time. But, a nagging cough is annoying. It might also signal a more serious lung condition. However, most of the time, you can effectively treat lingering coughs with home remedies and natural medicines.
Home Remedies for a Persistent Cough:
- Try honey. A spoonful of organic raw honey or sucking on menthol cough lozenges helps sooth dry coughs caused by nerve irritation in your throat.
- Relax the chest and intercostal muscles. Apply Vicks or natural menthol oil to your upper chest and back. Try acupressure on yourself. A massage can help soften tight muscles. Get acupuncture.
- Calm the vagus nerve. Airway irritation sends signals to your brain’s cough center in the medulla by way of the vagus nerve. Acupuncture helps rebalance the vagus nerve. Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises also improve vagal tone.
- Apply a mustard plaster. Mix 1 part powdered black mustard seeds with six parts regular flour. Add water to form a paste. Spread on a piece of muslin or flannel. Apply the plaster to your chest or the upper back. Do not leave it on too long because it might irritate your skin.
- Inhale steam. Steam helps a dry cough. Add a little thyme or eucalyptus oil, or fresh leaves, for their antiseptic action.
Home remedies might not be enough to quell a stubborn cough. If you’re still coughing, try herbal remedies.
Effective Herbal Medicines to Treat a Stubborn Cough:
- Take Lobelia. Lobelia inflata relieves lung spasms and chest tightness. It’s good for coughs with thick mucus. Take 10-20 drops of the tincture in 1 tablespoon of water 3-4 times daily.
- Try Drosera. Drosera rotundifloia or sundew calms persistent dry coughs and spasmodic coughing that is worse at nighttime. Take 10-20 drops of the fluid extract twice daily.
- Use Mullein. Verbascum thalapus leaf helps calm dry coughs and soothe irritated lung passages. The dried leaf can be made into a tea or taken as a tincture. Take 10-20 drops of the tincture 3-4 times daily.
- Take Wild Cherry Bark. Prunus serotine sedates the cough reflex center. A strong tea made from the dried bark or as a cough syrup helps relieve coughing. Take 1-2 teaspoons twice daily. Wild cherry back contains hydrocyanic acid, which can be toxic, so don’t take it for more than a week to 10 days.
There are many other herbal remedies for different kinds of coughs. If your cough does not subside after a week of herbal self-care, consult an herbalist or naturopathic doctor.
For quicker action, consider over-the-counter cough medicines. I don’t like putting chemicals in my body, but sometimes a little medicinal poison is just the trick needed to calm a cough. Remember that these non-prescription drugs were originally discovered from plants.
Over-The-Counter Cough Medicine:
- Take a cough suppressant. Cough suppressants arrest a cough temporarily. But be careful. Most contain dextromethorphan. Common side effects of this drug are drowsiness and dizziness. Overuse can cause seizures and brain damage.
- Take guaifenesin. Guaifenesin is the most commonly used expectorant in commercial cough syrups that help loosen phlegm. Guaifenesin was originally discovered from a Caribbean tree bark.
- Try antihistamines. However, be cautious with antihistamines. They dry up mucus so you can breathe better. But if your cough results from an infection, stopping flowing mucus can result in bacteria building making your cough worse. Antihistamines are often combined with decongestants and should be only used short term.
- Take decongestants. A decongestant can help clear a stuffed nose, so you breathe better. One of the most common decongestants is pseudoephedrine, a compound discovered from the Chinese herb Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica). Pseudoephedrine is a stimulant. Too much can cause rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and increased metabolism.
- If your cough lingers after catching a cold or the flu but is only annoying, give it time. Be patient. A dry cough is common and usually goes away on its own.
- If you have chest pain, difficulty breathing, fever, yellow or dark colored phlegm, or it’s tinged with blood, get to your doctor’s office.
- If your cough persists for months or you keep bringing up slimy phlegm, even if it’s white, see your doctor.
If your cough isn’t lessening in a month, or not completely gone in two months, consider seeing your primary care doctor.
You’ll find that doctors have a few simple rules that guide their clinical decisions about how to treat coughs. Here are some guidelines to help you decide if you need medical attention.
Remember that not all lingering coughs are serious. For example, post-viral bronchitis can take up to four months to settle down. Try home remedies and herbal medicine first. But, don’t underestimate the seriousness of a persistent cough. If you have to see your doctor, you’ll get an exam, some blood tests, and likely a chest x-ray, and if it’s a wet cough, antibiotics.