How to soothe a dry cough?
February 20, 2014 8:17 PM   Subscribe

What's the best, travel-friendly way to soothe a dry, post-flu cough?

I'm recovering from a week-long bout with H1N1 (swine flu). I feel totally fine, except for a lingering and very annoying dry cough. It seems to be caused more by remaining irritation than by anything else.

Tomorrow I have a red-eye international flight, and then I'll be at a conference where I'll be sharing a room (my physician has cleared me for travel). I don't want to spend a whole 10-hour flight coughing, or annoy my seatmates or roommate with hours of coughing.

What can I buy at the drugstore tomorrow to help soothe the irritation in my throat? A certain kind of cough drop? A tincture I can add to hot water? I have cough suppressant, but I'd also like to find something I can use during the day at my conference.

I will have access to an enormous drugstore tomorrow before my flight, but not a supermarket or organic health food store type place.
posted by lunasol to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Salt water gargle. This is a life saver for me. Almost every year, I get a cold that turns in to a dreadful cough. I have had acid reflux in the past which I think has left some scar tissue in my throat. Very often, I cough so much, it triggers my gag reflex. I hope I'm not over sharing. I just want to make clear how bad my cough gets. And this fixes it. A-maz-ing.
posted by Beti at 8:25 PM on February 20, 2014

Basically don't let your throat get dry, I think just a lot of hot liquids and cough drops are your best bet
posted by hejrat at 8:30 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I sometimes find eating a little bit of honey can be the most soothing...honey in tea is also nice.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:33 PM on February 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might want to pick up some Oasys throat spray. The Biotene doesn't work and tastes horrible. Oasys is minty and made of glycerine, so it coats your mouth and throat. It's a little hard to find, and you probably won't find the spray by itself (mine came as a bonus with their mouthwash). I think Walgreens might have it. Worst case, go to the pharmacy and ask for some artificial saliva. (Yes, that's a thing.)
posted by msbadcrumble at 8:53 PM on February 20, 2014

If your drugstore has them, Fisherman's Friend are the best cough drops I've ever tried. And seconding the hot tea with honey.
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:53 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

In children, 2 teaspoons of honey before bed has been shown to relieve cough. I don't have a direct citation, but it was published in the journal Pediatrics last year.

Also, codeine's great, the more the better. And steroids. Go get yourself hopped up. Or do the honey thing.
posted by Random Person at 9:06 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take a box of Throat Coat tea with you. It's the best. I'm always able to find it in any major grocery or pharmacy.
posted by greta simone at 9:06 PM on February 20, 2014

aspirin is a wonder drug, try the aspirin gargle. chew the tab into a powder first, take a mouthful of water, swish it around enough to dissolve, then gargle for maximum prolongation of contact between the aspirin water and the irritated throat tissue.
posted by bruce at 9:24 PM on February 20, 2014

Codeine. You're irritating your breathing passages with every cough, especially at night. A bit of codeine will help you sleep without coughing and break the cycle.

(Told to me by an MD, not making this up out of hearsay. Also, it worked.)
posted by zadcat at 9:32 PM on February 20, 2014

Starlight mints. You know, those red and white peppermints that are always left behind in any candy dish. Peppermint oil is super soothing to a sore throat, and they don't taste anywhere as gross as cough drops do. I always grab a few when I have a sore throat and they definitely help.
posted by dithmer at 10:29 PM on February 20, 2014

Get a humidifier, to run while you sleep. I have bad lungs (my parents smoked around me as a kid) and I always always get a dry cough that lingers after a cold. I went to the doctor, and he said that there's not much you can to about it, but prescribed me asthma medication (which didn't work since it's not asthma). The humidifer is the single best thing I have ever used to help my cough.

It may not help with the coughing the first night, (although you can get portable ones to take with you) but I find it really helps with my healing time. Weeks of dry cough was gone within 2-3 days of using it. I break it out every winter now, and I swear by it. It's good for dry skin too.

In the meantime, keeping the throat coated is your best bet. Cough syrups never tend to help me at all. What does help is warm milk with honey. Cough lozenges are hit and miss for me, too. I feel they actually dry out my throat a bit.

I have a friend that swears by Marshmallow and Licorice Root Cough Syrup but I've never tried it. I do use licorice sometimes (in supplement) for my coughs and colds and it does seem to help. The marshmallow root is supposed to coat your throat easier than the licorice on its own.
posted by Dimes at 1:55 AM on February 21, 2014

It's nice of you to care about your roommate's comfort; I don't have any better suggestions than what's been posted above, but how about getting a selection of earplugs for your roommate, just in's unclear whether you know this person or if it would be really weird to offer them, but if I showed up to find you all coughy, my first thought would be, damn i didn't think to bring earplugs!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 3:27 AM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make sure to buy a large bottle of water at the airport before you board the flight, or at least bring an empty plastic bottle and fill it at the terminal. Try to drink the whole thing during the duration of the flight.

All the medicines and etc wont mean a thing if you're dehydrated, and taking a long airplane ride is guaranteed to do that. It also helps with jet lag. When the cabin goes into sleepytime mode the flight attendants tend to stop roaming around as much. Having your own water source is a big help.
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:12 AM on February 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

You want warm water, and frequently.
You also want something we call "Vocal Zones" here in Australia - not sure if they're available under another name somewhere else.
Definitely gargle with aspirin.
posted by shazzam! at 4:47 AM on February 21, 2014

I use original Ricola cough drops for this (I'm in the same boat right now). However, with any cough drops with menthol in them, you want to keep an eye on how your stomach feels - some people don't do well with more than 1-2 per hour.

Also, warm drinks (tea, coffee, hot water, hot milk) and honey are great.
posted by RogueTech at 6:13 AM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I swear by Buckley's cough syrup, sometimes with added Chlorasceptic Max cough drops.

The Buckley's is disgusting and sometimes hard to find, but it's the single most effective cough treatment I've ever encountered.
posted by MeghanC at 6:37 AM on February 21, 2014

Mom's remedy was warm/hot lemonade. I add some of the honey that my brother collects. It soothes my throat for a good long time.

But I also enjoy gobbling the wretchedly smelly Fisherman's Friend cough lozenges, which are awful, chalky black things but which make me feel much better.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:28 AM on February 21, 2014

OK, just got back from the pharmacy where I bought a variety of cough drops, some earplugs and asprin. Now drinking tea with honey and I will buy a huge water bottle at the airport. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to the doctor for anything with codeine, but I have nyquil which will have to do for knocking me out! Similarly, I like the humidifier idea but can't see bringing that on a plane, train and minibus. :)

Thanks for all the advice!
posted by lunasol at 9:01 AM on February 21, 2014

Pectin-based cough drops are good if the problem is mainly that the back of your throat feels dry and tickly. "Oral demulcent" is the function you're looking for in the active ingredients list, if dry-throat is the problem. Luden's cherry ones have sugar, but there are Halls Breezers which have a sugar substitute. (Go easy on them the first day to test it out, they can sometimes mess with the digestion if you go overboard)

The pectin won't help with a continued urge to cough, or having more stuff to bring up still.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:13 AM on February 21, 2014

Take along a little flask of Cointreau. That does the trick for me when I'm suffering from the can't-lie-down-without-that-annoying-tickle-cough. Also, I really do hope you've got Ricola cough drops in your goodie bag. I had a bad lingering cough the first time I saw Einstein on the Beach, a 4.5 hour opera with no intermissions. Ricola allowed me to stay in my seat and not cough a single time. YAY.
posted by janey47 at 9:59 AM on February 21, 2014

I had H1N1 a few years ago and the dry cough was UNBELIEVABLY annoying. You have my fullest sympathy.

I am a pro-cough haver, and I found while recovering from the hacking cough of H1N1 that Halls mentholated lozenges were my best friend. The weird cooling sensation lingered a lot and really helped with the coughing. A close second were those numbing Cepacol lozenges, but they totally make your mouth and tongue numb which can be weird for eating, so fair warning.

I also made sure to take a pill or syrup with dextromethorphan cough suppressant in it to the max dosage each day.
posted by Ouisch at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2014

Well, the good news is that the cough is greatly reduced! The bad news is that my throat is completely raw now and my voice is now almost gone ... so I'm focusing on the hot water with lemon and honey. H1N1 is seriously no joke, friends.
posted by lunasol at 12:33 PM on February 22, 2014

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