What to do to heal from a cough?
December 20, 2013 12:11 PM   Subscribe

In week 4 of a cough they say I just have to wait out. What can I do to speed things along here?

Firstly: you are not my doctor. Secondly: I have seen a real doctor. Basically, the cough started about four weeks ago. I went after four days and they said I just have to wait it out, that the bugs are really bad this year and that they can't give out antibiotics for 'just a cough' anymore. My boss, and several others, had it and heard the same from their doctors.

My boss told me she felt better exactly one day after the three-week mark, so I went back to the dr when I didn't and he said that the bad news is they really REALLY can't give antibiotics for a cough, but the good news is I have an ear infection which they totally can give antibiotics for. That was four days ago. I am for the most part on the mend, but I still have 1-2 episodes a day of severe coughing where I cough pretty much non-stop for half an hour or more, and then it suddenly goes away.

Isn't there anything else I can do? Supplements I can take? Foods I can eat? I am doing the soups, the teas, taking a puffer, taking the antibiotics and everything. What else can I do?
posted by JoannaC to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have dry air in your office/home? A humidifier did wonders for me earlier this fall when I had a lingering cough (just make sure you keep it very, very clean). Barring this, hot, steamy showers a couple times a day seemed to soothe me. Taking spoonfuls of honey when I felt a coughing fit coming on seemed to help, too.
posted by singinginmychains at 12:17 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Back when I had a four week dry cough, the doctor told me "the only OTC medications proven to do anything for a (viral, acute) cough are Aleve and Mucinex."

I took both and they worked like a charm. YMMV. You can read some lengthy studies mentioning it if you want.
posted by castlebravo at 12:29 PM on December 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

The above, and: avoid sugar, alcohol, and caffeine (if you can). Lemon and honey in hot water helps hydrate the tissues in the throat.
posted by Specklet at 12:29 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

IANAD, but I am a guy on the Internet. I would like to recommend to you Pine Bros Softish Cough Drops.
posted by Rob Rockets at 12:33 PM on December 20, 2013

Just to note that if it doesn't clear up, don't give up on going back to the doctor; a chronic cough that just doesn't go away can (very rarely) be a symptom of nasty things like TB. If you are short of breath or coughing up blood or losing weight for no obvious reason, go tell that to the doctor stat.
posted by emilyw at 12:39 PM on December 20, 2013

Seconding humidifier and honey. My 2-year-old son had a cough for three months last winter and a humidifier and honey were the only things we could really do, and they both helped. There has actually been a study done that concluded honey helped as much as cough syrup did.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:39 PM on December 20, 2013

This is around NYC like crazy. The good news is the cough lasts about five weeks at the outside in my sample if 3 or 4 cases among my students.

There are no supplements you can take that have any proven value for your symptoms.

Halls or Riccolas are your friends.
posted by spitbull at 12:39 PM on December 20, 2013

Hi, former professional-cough-haver here. I have asthma, seasonal allergies, and am prone to catching the flu and then getting pneumonia and/or bronchitis, so coughs! I have so much horrible experience!

To my knowledge, there are no special foods or supplements that demonstrably help a cough, other than to provide general nutrition and fluid needs. Drinking fluids, humidifier, and hot steamy showers are good. Do those.

One thing to ask yourself: is this a "productive" cough, or a dry cough? Are you hacking up phlegm? Is your chest rattling? Is your throat itchy? Are you wheezing at all? These will help you target your symptom relief.

I am a huge fan of OTC symptom relief because anything that can relieve my cough even temporarily wears me out less during the daytime, makes me sleep better, rest easier, and heal up faster:

-Cough suppressant and expectorant (you can skip the latter if it is truly a dry cough) daily, as many times as the package recommends. I prefer them in pill-form because I hate syrup, but most expectorant (for wet coughs) only comes in syrup form, so you might have to take both, or a syrup that combines the two.

-Antihistamine if there is any sneeziness, stuffiness from swelling, watery eyes, or itching happening (I stick with my regular seasonal allergy medicine) on top of that. Avoid the antihistamines that are basically generic Benadryl that come in combo formulations unless you're just trying to knock yourself out to sleep.

-Decongestant, too, if my nose is all mucus-y and/or for wet cough. My favourite is Non-Drowsy Extra Strength Contac: Cough, Cold, and Flu that contains a decongestant, cough suppressant, and acetaminophen.

-If there is serious irritation in the throat, ibuprofen or Aleve might not be a bad addition to this regimen, unless there is already some in the pill-form cough suppressant you take.

-Then, for immediate relief of acute coughing attacks (especially dry, tickly ones) I use cough drops - you'll have to experiment to see whether menthol or non-menthol ones work best for you, there are even numbing ones like Cepacol if your throat is in pain, or do the honey thing mentioned above. Humectants and moisture are good.

-Inhaler once a day if I'm wheezing.

If your cough remains productive or wet or rattly for a long time, or other shocking things happen, you'll have to go back and get checked to make sure you don't have pneumonia or something else.
posted by Ouisch at 12:40 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a reminder, you asked virtually the same question last year. There were some good responses there too.
posted by spitbull at 12:44 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Isn't there anything else I can do? Supplements I can take? Foods I can eat? I am doing the soups, the teas, taking a puffer, taking the antibiotics and everything

Are you taking any vitamin supplements? Vitamin C, vitamin D3, multi-, B-complex? Start there.

Foods that have natural antibiotic properties are raw garlic, onions, and ginger. Typically when I am sick I will make some (chicken noodle) soup, then once it's done heating and in the bowl I will add 2-3 minced cloves of raw garlic, half of a small, finely diced onion, and a thumbs worth of finely diced raw ginger. Let it steep for 5 minutes or so, then have your soup.

Peppers are good too. The hotter the better. Make some salsa, of if you are averse to the hotness, add some diced into a dairy base, like sour cream or cream cheese. Yes, people will say avoid dairy when you're sick, but you gotta do what you gotta do. If that means having some dairy in order to get the peppers down, so be it.

Lots of people swear by drinking a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar to ward off sickness. I have just begun to try that this winter (actually, I made cyclone cider, you can google it). Hard to choke down, but you can power through it, and it seems to have good results.

Raw honey is preferable, if you are inclined to have honey with your tea. I have found that any sugar in my diet tends to result in sickness pretty quickly, so I try to avoid it, even in honey form.

I get a lot of benefit from zinc tablets, but ymmv.

Finally, I heartily second the mucinex, or an allergy medication to take care of mucus, if that is an issue for you (you didn't mention if that is an issue, or if your cough is more dry).
posted by vignettist at 12:46 PM on December 20, 2013

There is not an ounce of scientific basis for taking any vitamin or mineral supplements to suppress cough or heal respiratory infections.
posted by spitbull at 12:51 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is some evidence that the theobrine in dark chocolate will help temporarily suppress the coughing reflex. Anecdotally, I'm not a fan of cheap ass chocolate or cheap dark chocolate but it works. Maybe go back in a bit to make sure it's not RAD.

Previously, previously, previously, and previously.
posted by tilde at 12:55 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you take an inhaled steroid? I have asthma that primarily manifests as a lingering cough whenever I get a cold, and daily steroid use makes a big difference in terms of how much the cough hurts and how long it lingers.
posted by yarntheory at 2:07 PM on December 20, 2013

I have gotten some relief from hacking coughs (enough to get some much-needed sleep) from real ginger candies. Much more effective than "cough drops", and I personally can't handle the menthol in Halls, it makes me wheeze.

ginger candies
posted by RRgal at 2:14 PM on December 20, 2013

Seconding raw honey as opposed to pasteurized. Also, tea with mullein leaf (Yogi makes one called "Breathe Deep"). If you're near a Whole Foods, you can get both of those there.

Lots of other good suggestions above. IANAD, but I wouldn't try to suppress a cough that's productive, except at night so you can sleep. For that, I've even used Chloraseptic spray to numb my throat long enough to fall asleep without that dreaded tickle.

One thing that's worked wonders for my son especially and seems counterintuitive: after using steam, stepping out into cold air for a bit quiets the cough. I don't know if that's unwise for other reasons, but I've known plenty of parents to do this with croupy kiddos, and again, it could help long enough that you can get sleep, which is probably what will help you heal most quickly.
posted by whoiam at 2:27 PM on December 20, 2013

When I had a cough from hell earlier in the year, the only thing that helped was codeine linctus. Didn't get rid of the cough, but did reduce the frequency and severity of the coughing episodes.
posted by Catseye at 2:42 PM on December 20, 2013

If it's a productive cough, a physiotherapist will be able to help you clear it out. I was off work with pneumonia for a whole month 2010 and it wasn't till a physio pressed and shook me in a warm room that I started to get better.
posted by escapepod at 3:37 PM on December 20, 2013

I know this sounds suspiciously simple, but whenever I get these strangely lingering low-level viral situations, I curl up and sleep. 12 or 13 hours. If I wake up, I just go back down (and if I just linger in twilight, that's ok too). You'll feel drowsy the next day from oversleep. Good: use that drowsiness to nap yet some more. Lots of blankets. Be over-warm. Run humidifier if you have one.

It may just be me, but I find I can sleep away these sorts of issues. Trick is to keep stress down and nutrition and sleep well taken care of for a week or so afterwards, so as not to revert.
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:12 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I too get long lingering coughs from simple colds. I'm a pretty sedentary person. The one thing that helps me is aerobic exercise. I've had a bad cough for about a week now. Last night I did some heavy duty snow shoveling after work and had the best almost cough free sleep yet. I'm coughing again today, so I know I need to do some brisk walking tomorrow morning.
posted by marsha56 at 5:46 PM on December 20, 2013

Prescription for robitussin with codine to take at night. Ask if you can take a unisom too for sleep. When I had this I would cough all night making me tired and more sick during the day. The prescrption for the cough suppressor and pain killer let me sleep through the night and start healing.
posted by HMSSM at 9:43 PM on December 20, 2013

A hot water bottle on the chest or back (or both) at night has helped me. But there must be some medication (not antibiotics) that your doc could put you on that would help.
posted by miaow at 11:19 PM on December 20, 2013

Benadryl (at least 2, a couple of nights 3) let me sleep enough to not get sick again. It also completely dried me out even with my humidifier but it was necessary.

I found recipes for 'homemade cough syrup online that were olive oil, lemon juice, and honey, and that helped throughout the day.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:39 AM on December 21, 2013

I' just got over one of those too. Mucinex was the only thing that helped - but it did indeed work like a charm.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:41 PM on December 21, 2013

This Chinese loquat syrup is wonderful stuff.
posted by salix at 10:19 PM on December 21, 2013

I've found sage/thyme tea to be very soothing, and reasonably tasty. I've recommended it a few times, and have received good feedback. You'll find a number of specific recipes if you poke around a bit.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 3:55 PM on December 22, 2013

« Older Where is the rear brake pedal on the new Vespas?   |   How do you keep your deck from pooling water? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.