Coughing is an automatic respiratory response to assist the immune system during short-term or long-term illness, or in response to a complete or partial airway blockage.
When the nervous system reports an airway irritation or blockage, the brain orders the respiratory muscles to contract strongly, expelling the air and relieving the problem in the form of a cough.
There are lots of different natural ingredients that contain chemical compounds with soothing and relieving properties, and many of them can be combined to create some interesting and useful home remedies for coughing.
It’s one thing to get a cold now and again, something that just happens to most of us once in a while. The stuffy nose, constant sniffles and sore throat tend to last for anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
We usually feel like most of our symptoms gradually improve, but one symptom that can persist for weeks on end is that annoying cough. It can last long after all other symptoms have disappeared…but why?
Coughing is a reaction that occurs in the respiratory system. It’s an automatic response initiated by the autonomic nervous system, and is very important in maintaining respiratory health.
So let’s look at the reasons why we cough, and what we can do to help improve the symptoms of coughing.
While there are many medicated syrups and pastilles available on the market, there are also some very helpful natural ingredients. We’ve included some recipes for some soothing home remedies for coughing.
What Makes Us Cough?
Coughing is one of the methods the body uses to keep our airways open, which is clearly an important job! Coughing can be brought on by a range of different things.
Often associated with a cold, it’s also a key feature of the bacterial infection, whooping cough. Coughing can result from foreign bodies, like dust particles, fluids, mucus, bacteria and other irritants entering the airways. Conditions involving gastrointestinal reflux can also result in coughing.
There are generally two different types of cough; a dry, tickly cough, often accompanied by a general feeling of irritation around the upper chest and throat area can be annoying, and can be very persistent.
Deep, rumbling chesty coughs can result from a stimulus such as a bacterial infection. The rumbling is due to the phlegm—present to deactivate and package the bacteria ready to be expelled through coughing.
Coughing is usually as response to one of two situations:
The airways have become restricted in some way. This applies to health conditions such as asthma, allergic reactions and other bronchoconstriction diseases. Coughing can be a response to not getting enough air into and out of the lungs.
Further restrictions on the airways can be associated with some types of lung disease and obesity. Some conditions make it difficult to inflate the lungs fully, which can result in bacterial infection in some areas. These need to be removed by coughing.
The airways are partially or completely blocked. This can be as a result of a foreign body entering the lungs, such as food or liquid, dust, bacteria and associated phlegm.
Coughing can be an effective way of clearing a blockage from the airways. By expelling air forcefully out of the lungs, the aim is to clear the blockage under the high pressure air flow.
Ingredients for Home Remedies for Coughing
Many natural ingredients have amazing properties for helping to manage coughing, and lots of these may be sitting in your store cupboard.
Various natural ingredients can help soothe coughing, but this is one area where herbs and spices really come into their own. Here’s our guide to some produce and how they help with coughing.
Ginger has been shown to help suppress the extent of the immune system response to allergens, which can help keep airways working efficiently.
Ginger is also a proven pain reliever and anti-inflammatory agent, which can help calm irritation in the respiratory system as effectively as ibuprofen.
The tiny thyme leaves contain plant compounds called flavonoids that have been shown to stimulate the muscles in the respiratory system to relax. This can help to relieve the tension and irritation associated with coughing.
One clinical study indicated that using a mixture of thyme extract and ivy helped to relieve coughing in participants with bronchitis.
The amount of coughing fits in the group who took the thyme and ivy syrup was significantly reduced two days earlier than participants in a group who didn’t take the syrup.
Peppermint has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes throughout history. Associated with wound healing, peppermint also contains menthol, which helps to reduce congestion.
Peppermint can help break down mucus, making it thinner and easier to expel, so coughing becomes easier. Peppermint leaves can work well as part of a recipe; essential oil can be added to a bath, or applied directly to the skin in an appropriate carrier oil.
Peppermint essential oil can also be inhaled from a handkerchief, sprinkled on a pillow or added to a steaming bowl of boiling water for a decongesting, soothing facial steaming treatment. Eucalyptus is another essential oil with mentholated decongestant properties.
Cinnamon is beautifully fragrant spice made from shaved or ground inner tree bark. Various clinical trials have found that cinnamon is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which support the immune system.
Cinnamon has demonstrated impressive antibacterial and antifungal effects in research studies. It can significantly inhibit the growth of many types of bacteria, including salmonella and listeria, and drug-resistant strains like E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
Cinnamon can be particularly effective in helping reduce coughing symptoms due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, which help to calm the soft tissues in the airways.
We all know drinking plenty of water every day is a good thing, but we don’t necessarily take note of the effects of dehydration on the respiratory system.
The surfaces of the lungs are coated in a fluid called lung surfactant. This helps to lubricate the surfaces and is essential for the exchange of gases which occurs between the lungs and the blood stream.
The better hydrated we are, the thinner and less viscous all of the fluids in the body are, including blood and lung surfactant, which helps to promote efficient function.
Good levels of hydration also make phlegm thinner and less sticky, making it easier to cough up and dispose of. This means we don’t have to cough so hard to clear the lungs, reducing energy output and discomfort.
An interesting plant which is widely used to improve skin health and wound healing, Aloe vera can also help to heal us on the inside too. When carefully split open, the tough, spiky leaves contain a nutrient-rich gel which can be applied to the skin or consumed.
Research indicates that Aloe vera has strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, which can help to soothe a cough. The gel consistency of Aloe forms a soothing coat for the tissues in the throat. Aloe is also a great source of hydration.
With over 85 percent water, pineapples provide hydration, but also contain many beneficial compounds, including a wide range of vitamins and minerals. They definitely have more than just taste going on!
Bromelain is a compound unique to pineapples which has proven powerful anti-inflammatory effects. It’s been linked to increased efficiency of many different immune system functions.
Many of the nutrients in pineapples are essential for removing toxins and waste products, and have also been found to have strong antibacterial effects, including impressive results against drug-resistant strains of E. coli.
The chemical compounds in pineapples can reduce the amount of bacteria in our internal organs and boost the skin’s defense against potentially harmful bacteria.
Dealing with any bacteria can help treat the root cause of coughing, and the anti-inflammatory effects help to calm irritated soft tissue.
For centuries, honey had been used in numerous different cultures for its health benefits as well as the delicious sweet taste. Many different research papers indicate the antibacterial and immune-boosting properties of honey.
One study in particular rated honey as more effective in soothing an infection-related cough compared to a honey flavored medicated syrup.
Aside from the scientific evidence on honey, the texture and consistency is also very soothing for irritated soft tissue, and the comforting taste is an added bonus when you’re not feeling your best.
Home Remedies for Coughing
Each of these ingredients can be used with various methods. We’ve looked briefly at inhaling essential oils in different ways.
Increasing the amount of these ingredients in the food you prepare is a good idea, too, but bear in mind they’re most effective raw. Generally consuming more fruit and vegetables, especially vitamin C-rich citrus fruit can also help to boost the immune system.
Any combination of these ingredients can be steeped in hot, but not boiling water for a soothing, fragrant drink like this one:
- 1 cup hot water.
- ½ lemon.
- 2 teaspoons honey.
- 1 stick cinnamon.
- 2 sprigs thyme.
- 1-inch piece root ginger, peeled and sliced.
- Squeeze lemon juice into hot water, slice the remainder and add to the water.
- Add the honey and spices.
- Stir well, cover and allow to infuse for five minutes.
- Serve immediately.
You can also make your own cough natural cough syrup to take at regular intervals throughout the day and night. A homemade cough syrup could look something like this:
- ¼ cup water.
- 3 tablespoons honey.
- 4-inch piece Aloe gel.
- 4 sprigs thyme.
- 4 sprigs mint.
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder.
- 2 cinnamon sticks.
- Juice and peel of 1 orange.
- 2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and sliced.
- In a small pan, boil the water and remove from the heat.
- Add the cinnamon sticks, orange peel, ginger root, mint and thyme and leave to infuse until just warm.
- Add the Aloe vera gel and mix well.
- Strain mixture through a sieve.
- Mix in turmeric and honey to make a pourable syrup—add a little warm water if too thick.
How to Avoid Pain When Coughing
Coughing can be an uncomfortable experience. Persistent coughing can tire out and injure some of the chest and neck muscles.
A supported cough is a great way of constraining a cough and offloading some of the tired or stressed structures. It’s used extensively in patients recovering from chest and other types of surgery.
A supported cough can be done in two ways. Firstly, you can fold a blanket into a long strip about as wide as your torso and wrap it tightly around your chest before you cough to provide external support, but you need to get organized before you cough.
If there’s little warning before coughing, you can simply use a small cushion or a folded up blanket. With your elbows pressed in against your sides, hug it tightly to your chest as you cough.
Coughing is a natural reaction as a result of problems or irritation in the respiratory system. It serves a useful function in clearing foreign bodies, expelling mucus and boosting airflow.
While shop-bought cough remedies are available, home remedies for coughing can be at least as effective, and avoid many side effects. Herbs like thyme and mint can help to relieve symptoms, spices like ginger, cinnamon and turmeric also contain beneficial compounds.
Other fresh produce which can help boost the immune system and relieve coughing include pineapples, honey and Aloe vera, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Experiment using natural ingredients for inhalation treatments, syrups, drinks and in many other ways—have a go and see for yourself how effective home remedies for coughing can be!