Why Doctors Say Neti Pots Are Key to Beating Lingering Coughs (2023)

The worst part of a cold for many is an annoyingly persistent cough — especially when that tickle in your throat crops up at the worst times, like during a work presentation or as you're tossing and turning in bed. It's enough to make you desperately search for ways to get rid of a cough — overnight if possible.

But as it turns out, there's a really important reason why we cough, and it's meant to help you get better. "Coughing is a reflex that our body uses in response to irritation, inflammation or infection in the lungs and airway," says Chantel Strachan, M.D., a primary care physician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. "It is how our bodies literally try to push unwanted germs and irritants out of the body."

Coughing is most associated with respiratory infections — like the common cold or flu, bronchitis and more serious infections, including COVID-19. But it can also be due to acid reflux, allergies, asthma as well as unexpected side effects of some medication, according to Dr. Strachan. While a wet cough (a productive cough that brings up phlegm or mucus) is often a sign of a lower respiratory infection, a dry cough is commonly associated with irritated or inflamed upper airways, says Glen B. Chun, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine and clinical director of Mount Sinai's National Jewish Respiratory Institute. Treatment for wet coughs is often targeted towards suppressing the cough entirely, whereas for dry coughs it may be more focused on soothing the associated sore throat, he explains.

So what exactly can you do to treat an annoyingly persistent cough? Thankfully, there are a number of effective strategies you can try for improving your cough symptoms — and you may already have the solution in your home. From using over-the-counter medication to drinking a cup of tea, here are 11 easy ways to get rid of your cough.

Take Cough Medicine

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Over-the-counter medicine from your pharmacy is often your first resource when it comes to treating a cough. But not all medicine is the same — there are three distinct types of cough medicine for you to consider, according to Dr. Chun. The first is an expectorant, which helps expel the mucus in your body by thinning it; suppressants, on the other hand, subdue cough reflexes in the brain. There's also cough medicine that uses a combination formula, which utilizes both forms.

Other commonly used ingredients include decongestants, which help ease a stuffy nose, and antihistamines for allergies or runny noses, as well as painkillers such as acetaminophen.

"Generally, these medications are only meant to be used for a short period of time and should not be used for more than 1 week," Dr. Chun advises. For those with pre-existing health conditions, it's crucial that you consult your primary care doctor before taking new cough medicine, as they may interact with existing prescriptions or negatively impact a pre-existing condition.

Stay Hydrated

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There's a good reason why drinking lots of fluids is so important when you're sick. Not only does it keep you from getting dehydrated, drinking more liquid may also aid your immune system in fighting off viral infections. How, exactly? "Increased fluids help to fight infection by increasing blood flow to the affected area of the body," Dr. Strachan explains.

Additionally, drinking a lot of water helps thin out mucus and soothes discomfort associated with a sore throat, Dr. Chun says.

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Beyond water, try sipping a warm cup of tea for some extra relief, as the best tea blends can boost home healing efforts.

"Warm drinks, teas or broths thin mucus and reduce throat irritation," Dr. Chun says. "Some teas have also been found to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that provide some relief."

One such tea is ginger tea, which is an especially great option as ginger has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that will bolster your immune system.

RELATED: 10 Soothing Teas That Can Fight Cold Symptoms When You're Sick

Soothe with Honey

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Want an extra boost in your tea or hot water? Try mixing in some honey — an age-old remedy to soothe a sore throat and cough. According to officials at the Mayo Clinic, honey has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties — and evidence suggests that it can indeed help with a cough.

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In fact, a 2021 review of studies published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine suggests that honey may actually be "superior to usual care" for improving active symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, including cough frequency and cough severity.

Gargle With Salt Water

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It's not just another old wives' tale: Salt water gargles are a simple, safe and low-cost home remedy that can help soothe a scratchy throat, which might be triggering your cough. "Gargling with salt water helps kill bacteria, loosen mucus and ease pain and discomfort," Dr. Chun adds.

To make an effective saltwater gargle, Mayo Clinic experts recommend dissolving 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt in an 8oz glass of warm water. You'll want to swish the solution around in your mouth and gargle at the back of your throat for about 30 seconds, then spit it out.

Use a Humidifier

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Is the air in your home too dry? According to materials published by the Cleveland Clinic, breathing in dry air is linked to common respiratory problems, including coughing — using a humidifier can help relieve these congestion issues. These handy devices release water vapor or steam to increase moisture levels in the air, which can help thin and clear up mucus, explains Dr. Strachan.

RELATED: 6 Best Humidifiers of 2022, According to Home Experts

Take a Hot Bath or Shower

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If you don't have a humidifier on hand at the moment, just hop in the shower. In a similar way that using a humidifier can help open up nasal passages and loosen up your mucus, breathing in the steam and humid air from a hot shower or steam bath can help ease cough and other congestion symptoms. Plus, an added bonus: It's great for relaxing and de-stressing after a long day.

Grab a Cough Drop

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Looking for instant relief for a chest-wracking cough? Sucking on a cough drop or lozenge may help throughout the day. The most common ingredient in cough drops is menthol, a substance that is naturally found in the mint plant, and works to provides a cooling sensation almost instantly.

Other flavors can work, too. "[Cough drops] increase saliva, which helps to lubricate the throat," Dr. Strachan adds. "This limits inflammation, and ultimately resolves cough."

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If your cough is also accompanied by sinus problems and post-nasal drip — meaning, mucus trickles down your throat towards your mouth, triggering coughing — you should reach for a nasal irrigation device.

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Neti pots are popular, as they use salt water solutions to treat allergies, sinus problems and nasty colds. "Neti pots are a great way to clean out any debris or mucus in the nasal sinus passages," Dr. Chun says.

To use a neti pot properly, officials at the Mayo Clinic advise tilting your head sideways and placing the spout of the neti pot in the upper nostril. Then, gently pour the saltwater solution into your upper nostril, which will allow the liquid to drain through your other nostril. Repeat on the other side for good measure.

Avoid Smoking and Other Irritants

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Airborne irritants that enter your respiratory system can trigger a cough reflex — which means that smoking isn't a good idea if you're trying to get rid of a cough. "Eliminating environmental respiratory irritants such as cigarette smoking, dust, and pollens, can also greatly improve cough," Dr. Chun says.

Besides avoiding smoking, you can also use an air purifier to help clear the air of other common irritants like dust and pollen.

RELATED: These 6 Common Allergens and Irritants Might Be Lurking in Your Home

See a Doctor

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If you're finding that your cough isn't improving with these home remedies, it may be time to seek medical attention.

Dr. Strachan advises seeing a doctor if your symptoms are severe, not responding to over-the-counter treatments or persists for more than 4 weeks. "After a typical respiratory viral infection, cough often resolves within 4 weeks, but can linger for up to 8 weeks," she says. "The cough should gradually be improving during this time."

Dr. Chun also advises seeking medical attention if your cough is associated with symptoms like shortness of breath, bloody mucus, chest pain, confusion, high fever, fainting, night sweats or unexplained weight loss. "These are signs that signify this may be more than just a common cold," he shares.

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Hannah JeonEditorial AssistantHannah (she/her) is an editorial assistant for Good Housekeeping, where she writes health content and assists with social media strategy across platforms including Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter.

FAQs

How do I get rid of a lingering cough? ›

Lifestyle and home remedies
  1. Drink fluids. Liquid helps thin the mucus in your throat. ...
  2. Suck on cough drops or hard candies. They may ease a dry cough and soothe an irritated throat.
  3. Consider taking honey. A teaspoon of honey may help loosen a cough. ...
  4. Moisturize the air. ...
  5. Avoid tobacco smoke.
9 Jul 2019

How do you get rid of a lingering cough from a sinus infection? ›

How to stop postnasal drip
  1. Staying hydrated, which can also help to thin mucus.
  2. Use a humidifier or vaporizer to keep the air moist.
  3. Propping yourself up with extra pillows when you sleep, so the mucus doesn't collect in the back of your throat.
  4. An oral medication such as guaifenesin (Mucinex), which can thin mucus.
24 Nov 2021

How do you get rid of a lingering cough naturally? ›

Natural Cough Remedies
  1. Honey. 1/12. A teaspoon or two of honey may cut mucus production. ...
  2. Hot Drinks. 2/12. Hot drinks won't ease a stuffy head, but they can soothe a cough much better than room temperature drinks. ...
  3. Ginger. 3/12. ...
  4. Water. 4/12. ...
  5. Steam. 5/12. ...
  6. Neti Pot. 6/12. ...
  7. Elderberry. 7/12. ...
  8. Menthol. 8/12.
2 Aug 2021

What is the fastest way to cure a cough? ›

12 natural cough remedies
  1. Honey. According to research, honey may relieve a cough. ...
  2. Ginger. Ginger may ease a dry or asthmatic cough, as it has anti-inflammatory properties. ...
  3. Hot fluids. ...
  4. Steam. ...
  5. Marshmallow root. ...
  6. Saltwater gargle. ...
  7. Bromelain. ...
  8. Thyme.

Why won't my cough ever go away? ›

A lingering cough can result from many conditions, including bronchitis, asthma, acid reflux, or chronic allergies. Natural remedies, such as drinking tea with honey or inhaling essential oils, can help. You may also need over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, depending on the cause.

What causes a cough that won't go away? ›

Dozens of conditions can cause a recurrent, lingering cough, but the lion's share are caused by just five: postnasal drip, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic bronchitis, and treatment with ACE inhibitors, used for high blood pressure and heart failure.

Is coughing the end of a sinus infection? ›

How long does a cough after a sinus infection last? Most coughs after a sinus infection clear up within a couple of weeks as you continue to feel better and your sinus inflammation resolves, but some people can develop a cough that lasts weeks or even months.

How do I know if my cough is from post nasal drip? ›

What are the symptoms of postnasal drip?
  1. A feeling of mucus draining into your throat.
  2. Frequent swallowing.
  3. Gurgling or hoarseness.
  4. Urge to clear your throat.
  5. Bad breath (halitosis).
  6. Cough that bothers you more at night.
  7. Nausea and vomiting from excess mucus draining to your stomach.
19 May 2022

How can I clear mucus from my lungs and sinuses? ›

How to get rid of excess mucus and phlegm
  1. Hydrate more. Drink more water. ...
  2. Use a humidifier. ...
  3. Check filters on heating and cooling systems. ...
  4. Use a nasal saline spray. ...
  5. Gargle with salt water. ...
  6. Use eucalyptus. ...
  7. Use over-the-counter medication.
19 May 2022

Can persistent cough be cured? ›

While it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the problem that's triggering a chronic cough, the most common causes are tobacco use, postnasal drip, asthma and acid reflux. Fortunately, chronic cough typically disappears once the underlying problem is treated.

Why do I have a continuous dry cough? ›

Dry coughs can come on after a cold or flu or if you have COVID-19. Other conditions like GERD, heart failure and lung cancer can cause chronic dry coughs. You may also have chest tightness with a dry cough.

How do I get rid of mucus cough overnight? ›

Getting rid of phlegm and mucus at home
  1. Keep the air moist. ...
  2. Drink plenty of fluids. ...
  3. Apply a warm, wet washcloth to the face. ...
  4. Keep the head elevated. ...
  5. Do not suppress a cough. ...
  6. Discreetly get rid of phlegm. ...
  7. Use a saline nasal spray or rinse. ...
  8. Gargle with salt water.

What is heart cough? ›

It's a type of coughing or wheezing that occurs with left heart failure. Depending on how severe the symptoms are, this wheezing can be a medical emergency. Heart failure can cause fluid to build up in the lungs (pulmonary edema) and in and around the airways.

When should I be worried about a cough that won't go away? ›

It is best to see a doctor for coughs that persist for longer than 3 weeks, as they may indicate something more serious. A cough occurs when the lungs or airways become irritated. The most common cause of a cough is the common cold, which does not usually require medical attention.

When to see a doctor about a cough that won't go away? ›

Call your doctor if your cough (or your child's cough) doesn't go away after a few weeks or if it also involves any one of these: Coughing up thick, greenish-yellow phlegm. Wheezing. Experiencing a fever.

What does a sinusitis cough sound like? ›

Coughing that Sounds Phlegmy

Having a deep, phlegmy cough is common in people with sinus infections. You might also be coughing up mucus, which is known as a “productive” cough.

What is a sinusitis cough like? ›

People with sinus infections often notice that they cough up green or yellow phlegm or that the mucus they blow out of their nose is a bright color. Sinusitis causes a lot of mucus production, and a person may find they are unable to clear the sinuses no matter how often they blow their nose.

Why am I coughing so much with sinusitis? ›

Sinus conditions, such as sinusitis, can produce postnasal drip. This drip sometimes feels like a tickle in the back of your throat, and drainage can lead to chronic cough. This tickle happens when the amount of draining mucus is more than usual.

Can't clear phlegm from throat? ›

Drinking enough liquids, especially warm ones can help with mucus flow. Water and other liquids can loosen your congestion by helping your mucus move. Try sipping liquids, like juice, clear broths, and soup. Other good liquid choices include decaffeinated tea, warm fruit juice, and lemon water.

Can sinus drainage cause a productive cough? ›

A post-nasal drip is caused when mucus from the nose and sinuses enters the back of the throat. This process can trigger a productive cough, although it can also less commonly produce a non-productive cough.

Can post nasal drip drain into lungs? ›

However, when you lie flat on your back at night post nasal drip can actually seep around the epiglottis, exposing your lungs to the bacteria in the mucus. Pneumonia (an infection in your lungs) and bronchitis (irritation of the bronchial tubes in your lungs) could develop.

What moves mucus out of lungs? ›

Cilia are mobile, tiny, finger-like projections on the surface of airway cells. Cilia line the airways and help move mucus up and out of the lungs [5].

What dries up mucus and phlegm? ›

Decongestants: Decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine (like Sudafed) can dry out mucus in the chest, nose, and throat.

How do hospitals clear mucus from the lungs? ›

Active cycle of breathing techniques (ACBT)

It involves repeating a cycle made up of a number of different steps. These include a period of normal breathing, followed by deep breaths to loosen the mucus and force it up, then coughing the mucus out. The cycle is then repeated for 20 to 30 minutes.

What kind of cough can last for months? ›

When people visit us with a cough that's persisted for months, bronchitis is often to blame. You might develop this condition, which is marked by inflammation in your airways, after a respiratory infection or a cold. Chronic bronchitis can linger for months or even years, causing a cough you just can't kick.

What food worsens a cough? ›

Such as desserts, desserts, soft drinks, fruit juices And all kinds of nectar Due to sugar in food Increases the risk of inflammation And infection in the body Make people who are sick with a cold Symptoms do not improve Or it may be more severe during the cough, so you should temporarily avoid sweet foods.

Which fruits should be avoided during cough? ›

Citrus fruits like oranges, limes, and grapefruits are some examples of fruits to avoid during cough and cold.

What drinks help a cough? ›

Drinking tea or warm lemon water mixed with honey is a time-honored way to soothe a sore throat. But honey alone may be an effective cough suppressant, too. In one study, children ages 1 to 5 with upper respiratory tract infections were given up to 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) of honey at bedtime.

Should I cough my mucus out? ›

Coughing and blowing your nose are the best ways to help mucus fight the good fight. “Coughing is good,” Dr. Boucher says. “When you cough up mucus when you are sick, you are essentially clearing the bad guys—viruses or bacteria—from your body.”

How long does it take for a cough to go away completely? ›

Most acute coughs last around 3 weeks or less. Sometimes, a cough may last longer than 3 weeks, becoming subacute or chronic. This can be due to a postnasal drip, the effects of an infection, or an underlying health condition.

What happens if you have a cough for 3 weeks? ›

Speak to a GP if:

you've had a cough for more than 3 weeks. your cough is particularly severe. you cough up blood. you experience shortness of breath, breathing difficulties or chest pain.

How long does it take a normal cough to go away? ›

Coughing is part of your natural immune defence system. It is better to cough up phlegm. Otherwise the phlegm may lodge lower in the lungs where it can cause serious infections like pneumonia. A cough will usually go away on its own within 3 weeks.

Why does a cough linger so long? ›

Respiratory infections such as bronchitis (an inflammation of the bronchial tubes) can often cause lingering coughs. And while many cases resolve on their own, it's still a good idea to get assessed in case the cause is bacterial and requires antibiotics.

How much coughing is too much? ›

Get in touch with your doctor if you have a mild cough that doesn't go away in 1-2 weeks. A chronic cough is when a cough lasts more than 8 weeks.

When should I be concerned about lingering cough? ›

Call your doctor if your cough (or your child's cough) doesn't go away after a few weeks or if it also involves any one of these: Coughing up thick, greenish-yellow phlegm. Wheezing. Experiencing a fever.

What to do if cough lasts more than 3 weeks? ›

See a GP if:
  1. you've had a cough for more than 3 weeks (persistent cough)
  2. your cough is very bad or quickly gets worse – for example, you have a hacking cough or cannot stop coughing.
  3. you feel very unwell.
  4. you have chest pain.
  5. you're losing weight for no reason.

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