Coughing is the way the body gets rid of mucus and foreign material from the lungs and upper respiratory passages. This can be important to remember when you have a cough, because often you don’t want to totally suppress it. You do want to make it easier on your body when the cough is never-ending, but you still want to be able to cough, allowing your body to get rid of the mucus buildup. In order to relieve some of the discomfort associated with a cough while not eliminating the cough completely, consider making your own cough medicine at home.
Making Cough Medicine at Home
Make honey and lemon cough medicine. Gently warm up 1 cup (240 mL) of honey over low heat. Add 3–4 tablespoons (44–59 mL) of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the warm honey. Add 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup (59 to 79 mL) of water to the honey-lemon mixture and stir while continuing to heat on low. Refrigerate the mixture. When you need the cough medicine, take 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 mL) as needed.
Medicinal honey, such as Manuka honey from New Zealand, is recommended, but any organic honey will do.
Lemon juice contains high levels of Vitamin C—the juice of 1 lemon contains 51% of the daily Vitamin C requirement. Lemon juice also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is believed that the combination of Vitamin C and the antimicrobial properties make lemon useful for coughs.
Do not give honey to any child under 12 months of age. There is a small risk of getting infant botulism from bacterial toxins sometimes found in honey. There are less than 100 cases of infant botulism in the U.S. every year and most babies recover fully, but better to be safe than sorry!
Use an alternate method of making honey and lemon cough medicine. Cut a washed, whole lemon into thin slices (along with the skin and the seeds). Add the slices to 1 cup (240 mL) of honey. Heat over low heat for 10 minutes with constant stirring.
Break up the lemon slices as you stir.
Once you’re finished cooking, strain the mixture to get the leftover lemon slices out. Store the mixture in the refrigerator.
Consider adding garlic to the honey and lemon cough medicine. Peel 2-3 cloves of garlic and chop them as finely as possible. Add it to the honey-lemon mixture before you add water. Heat the mixture on a low flame for about 10 minutes. Then add 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup (59 to 79 mL) of water to the honey-lemon mixture and stir it in while heating the mixture over the low flame.
Refrigerate the mixture. When you need the cough medicine, take 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 mL) as needed.
Mix ginger with honey and lemon to sooth inflamed airways. Ginger is often used to improve digestion and to treat nausea and vomiting, but it has also been traditionally used to relieve a dry cough.
It may work by relaxing your airways, allowing you to breathe more easily. To make a simple honey, lemon, and ginger cough syrup:
Combine the zest of 2 lemons, 1/4 of a cup (about 25 g) of chopped, peeled ginger root, and 1 cup (240 mL) of water in a small saucepan. If you don’t have fresh ginger, use 1/2 a teaspoon (about 1 g) of ground ginger.
Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes, then strain it into a heat-safe container.
Warm up 1 cup (240 mL) of honey in a clean saucepan on low heat, but don’t let it come to a boil. Stir in the strained lemon and ginger water and add 1⁄2 cup (120 mL) of lemon juice. Stir the mixture until it forms a thick syrup.
You can store this mixture in the refrigerator in a well-sealed container for up to 2 months. Use 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 mL) every 4 hours to treat a cough in an adult or teenager, or 1–2 teaspoons (4.9–9.9 mL) every 2 hours for children under 12.
Try licorice tea with honey and lemon. Licorice may be helpful for soothing a cough. Brew up a cup of licorice tea and mix in honey and lemon juice to taste to soothe a cough or sore throat.
Don’t drink licorice tea often, and avoid it altogether if you have a history of high blood pressure. Licorice can deplete your body’s potassium supply and make your blood pressure dangerously high.
Talk to your doctor about using licorice if you’re taking any other medications, herbs, or supplements. Sometimes they can interact in harmful ways.
Use glycerin as a substitute for honey. If you don’t have, don’t like, or can’t use honey, substitute glycerin. Heat 1⁄2 cup (120 mL) of glycerin with 1⁄2 cup (120 mL) of water over low heat. Then add 3–4 tablespoons (44–59 mL) of lemon juice to the mixture. Add 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup (59 to 79 mL) of water to the glycerin-lemon mixture and stir while continuing to heat the mixture over the low flame. Refrigerate the mixture. When you need the cough medicine, take 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 mL) as needed.
Glycerin has “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) status with the FDA. Pure glycerin is a colorless and somewhat sweet vegetable product that is used to make all sorts of ingestible products and personal care products.
Because glycerin soaks up water, it can be helpful in small amounts to reduce any swelling in the throat.
Use natural glycerin and not the synthetic or man-made form.
Be aware that glycerin is used to treat constipation, so if diarrhea becomes a problem, reduce the amount of glycerin you use. Mix 1⁄4 cup (59 mL) of glycerin with 3⁄4 cup (180 mL) of water in the recipe above.
Prolonged and excessive ingestion of glycerin can increase blood sugar and blood fat levels.
Assessing Your Cough
Understand the possible causes of a cough. The most common causes for acute coughs are the common cold, influenza (better known as the flu), pneumonia (an infection in the lung(s) by bacteria, viruses, or fungi), chemical irritants, and whooping cough (also known as pertussis, a highly contagious bacterial lung infection).The most common causes of chronic coughs are allergic reactions, asthma, bronchitis (an inflammation of the bronchi or air tubes in the lungs), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and post-nasal drip (when mucus drips into the throat from the sinuses, causing irritation with a reflex cough).
There are other, less common causes of cough, including other lung disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Coughs can also be due to side effects of medication.
This is particularly the case with a class of blood pressure medications known as ACE inhibitors.
A cough may be the side effect of other infections and illnesses, including a coronavirus infection, cystic fibrosis, chronic and acute sinusitis, congestive heart failure, and tuberculosis.
Decide whether you should see a doctor for your cough. Try home remedies for 1-2 weeks. For most coughs, these should provide enough relief for you to recover. If there is no improvement after 1-2 weeks, however, make an appointment with your physician for a full diagnosis and to determine your best course of action.
Also, make an appointment with your physician if during that 1-2 weeks you experience any fever of more than 100 °F (38 °C) for more than 24 hours, coughing up greenish-yellow thick discharge (this can indicate a serious bacterial pneumonia), coughing up mucus with streaks of reddish or pinkish blood, vomiting (particularly if the vomit looks like coffee grounds—this may indicate a bleeding ulcer), difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or feeling short of breath.
Assess whether a child needs to go to the doctor for a cough. There are some illnesses that can incapacitate children more quickly and some illnesses that children are especially prone to get. Because of this, you need to assess their coughs differently. With children, call your physician immediately if they experience any of the following:
Any fever over 100 °F (38 °C).
A barking type of cough—this may be croup, a viral infection of the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe). Some children may also experience stridor, which is a high-pitched whistling or gasping sound. If you hear either of these types of sounds, call your physician right away.
A wheezy, gurgling type of cough that may sound raspy or whistling. This could be bronchiolitis, potentially caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSC).
A whooping sound when your child inhales, which is likely whooping cough.
Decide whether a cough needs treatment. Remember that coughing is the body’s natural way of getting rid of bacteria, viruses, or fungus-filled mucus, and that is a good goal! However, if your or your child’s cough is not allowing you to rest or sleep, or is causing any difficulty in breathing, it is time to treat that cough. You need adequate rest and sleep when you have a cough, so that is where remedies can be useful.
You can use many home remedies as much and as often as you want. They will also help keep you hydrated, which is very important as your immune system and body recovers.