Coughing is your body’s way of expelling germs, toxins, and excess mucus from your lungs and trachea. While it is an important reflex and normal on occasion, coughs can also signal the onset of a cold or flu, put a lot of stress on the body, and linger longer than they should.
Whether you have a wet cough that raises phlegm from the lower respiratory tract, or a dry hacking cough without phlegm, there are ways to calm the coughing reflex without harsh chemicals or harmful side effects associated with many popular cough medicines. Find out how to reduce a wet or dry cough, the difference between cough suppressants and expectorants, and what else you can do to feel better faster.
Wet vs. Dry Coughs
The main difference between wet and dry coughs is phlegm. Also known as a productive cough, a wet cough produces mucus, or phlegm. It may feel like you have something stuck at the back of your throat or in your chest and you might even cough up mucus into your mouth. Wet coughs often tend to worsen at night when you lie down.
Dry coughs, on the other hand, may feel like a tickle in your throat. These coughs do not produce mucus and may cause a sore throat or chest tightness if they linger too long.
While wet coughs are typically caused by colds or flus, they can also be caused by bronchitis, asthma, or in severe cases, pneumonia. Dry coughs tend to have many more causes, including recovery from a cold or flu, COVID-19, allergies, croup, GERD, postnasal drip, smoking, or it may be a side effect of certain medications, like those used to treat high blood pressure.
When to Take Cough Suppressants vs Expectorants
The two most common types of medications sought for coughs are expectorants and suppressants. Expectorants are designed to thin mucus from the airway, which is why they are commonly recommended for wet coughs. Suppressants, on the other hand, work by blocking the coughing reflex and are often used for dry coughs. By targeting the part of the brain responsible for the cough, suppressants are superior to expectorants in stopping your cough at its source while helping your body recover from the stress that coughing places on it.
But not all cough medicines are created equally. Refer to our guides below on how to choose the right medicine for your cough.
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Dry Cough Guide
Many cough suppressants sold over the counter include the chemicals dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine, which work by calming the coughing reflex. These chemicals are also found in many multi-symptom cold and flu medications. Despite the widespread use of products containing these chemicals, studies show that there is actually no evidence that over-the-counter cold and flu medicines suppress or stop coughing when compared to placebo1. In one study, honey was even more preferable than dextromethorphan2. These findings are troubling if you consider the many side effects associated with these chemicals, such as upset stomach, drowsiness, dizziness, and dry mouth3.
And many common prescription cough suppressants are no better. These often contain codeine and hydrocodone, two powerful narcotics that are habit-forming and can cause serious side effects when abused or used by children4.
When it comes to treating your dry cough, try the following instead:
- Honey: As the study cited above suggests, honey is a natural suppressant that works as well as (or better than) most OTC cough medicines. Just be sure not to give honey to children under one because it may cause botulism.
- Cough drops: Cough drops containing menthol, lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus, or other natural ingredients can be found in most health stores and help to suppress your dry cough.
- Turmeric: Often found in curries, turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin, a compound which may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Turmeric has been long used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat upper respiratory conditions like a dry cough.
- Homeopathic medication: Brillia Health’s Cough Control is a homeopathic cough medicine that uses antibodies to help calm the cough reflex and ease the inflammation that may be intensifying the cough. These ingredients include lapine morphine immune globulin, lapine bradykinin immune globulin, and lapine histamine immune globulin, all of which work gently and efficiently with your body’s immune system to reduce your cough at the source of symptoms. These ingredients reduce cough discomfort and duration, lessen the severity and the prevalence of the cough, and help to control inflammation without interfering with your body’s natural defenses or overloading it with harsh chemicals or harmful side effects.
Brillia Health’s Cough Control will not make you drowsy, dizzy, or cause stomach upset, nor will it have any dangerous interactions with other medications like those used for high blood pressure. Studies show that Cough Control works even better than codeine without the dangerous side effects associated with that powerful narcotic. Even more, Brillia Health’s Cough Control is so gentle, it can be used for children as young as three.
Wet Cough Guide
Many over-the-counter expectorants are just as worrying as OTC suppressants. Popular expectorants contain guaifenesin, a chemical found in Robitussin and Mucinex. This chemical is known to cause such side effects such as nausea, upset stomach, dizziness, and headache5. As far as prescription expectorants, one option is potassium iodide, which can also cause upset stomach or nausea and must be closely monitored in users6.
When it comes to treating your wet cough, try the following instead:
- Honey: Honey isn’t just useful for dry coughs. Some research has shown that it can be similarly useful for wet coughs and even help to induce sleep8.
- Ivy leaf: Herbal ivy leaf extract contains saponins which are said to have expectorant properties. Studies show that ivy leaf is generally safe for use in treating coughs caused by acute upper respiratory tract infections and bronchitis7.
- Homeopathic medication: Brillia Health’s Cough Control is not an expectorant, but it can still relieve wet coughs due to its antihistamine ingredient, which helps to minimize fluid buildup that can lead to secondary infections. The medication has also been clinically proven to reduce both cough severity and duration of illness.
And if you are suffering from multiple symptoms, you can also consider taking Brillia Health’s Cold-Flu Recovery, which helps to reduce congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and body aches. Since neither of these products has contraindications, they can be safely taken together alongside any other prescription medications or alone.
What Else You Can do to Improve Your Cough
In addition to using a gentle homeopathic medication like Brillia Health Cough Control or natural remedies like honey or herbal extracts, there are plenty of things you can do at home to help improve your wet or dry cough. These include:
- Staying hydrated
- Getting enough rest
- Taking a hot shower or bath
- Using a humidifier or vaporizer
- Gargling saltwater
- Avoiding irritants like perfume, smoke, and dust