Coughs, Age 12 and Older
Coughs, Age 12 and Older
Coughing is your body's way of
removing foreign substances and
mucus from your
lungs and upper airway passages . Productive coughs are often useful, and you
should not try to eliminate them. Sometimes, though, coughs are severe enough
to impair breathing or prevent rest. Home treatment can help you feel more
comfortable when you have a cough.
Home treatment for adults
dehydration. Fluids may help thin secretions and
soothe an irritated throat. Dry, hacking coughs respond to honey in hot water,
tea, or lemon juice.
- Elevate your head with extra pillows at night
to ease a dry cough.
- Try a cough drop to soothe an irritated
throat. Expensive medicine-flavored cough drops are no better than inexpensive
candy-flavored drops or hard candy. Most cough drops have no effect on the
- Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Use only water in the humidifier.
- Quit smoking and do not use other forms
of tobacco, especially while you have a cough. For more information on quitting
smoking, see the topic
- Avoid exposure to
inhaled irritants, such as smoke, dust, or other pollutants, or wear a face
mask that is appropriate for the exposure. Many kinds of face masks are
available. Check with your doctor or
pharmacist to determine which type of face mask will
provide you with the most benefit.
- If you suspect problems with
stomach acid may be contributing to your cough, see the topic
Cough preparations may help your
cough. Avoid cold remedies that combine medicines to treat many symptoms. It is
generally better to treat each symptom separately. There are two kinds of cough
medicines: expectorants and suppressants.
- Expectorants help thin
the mucus and make it easier to cough mucus up when you have a productive
- Use an expectorant if you have a cough that
produces thick mucus and you are having trouble coughing the mucus up. Don't
depend entirely on an expectorant to thin the mucus. Drink plenty of water
- Look for expectorants containing guaifenesin, such as
Robitussin, Mucinex, and Vicks 44E.
- Suppressants control or
suppress the cough reflex and work best for a dry, hacking cough that keeps you
- Use cough suppressants wisely. Don't
suppress a productive cough too much, unless it is keeping you from getting
enough rest. Coughing is useful because it brings up mucus from the lungs and
helps prevent bacterial infections. People with asthma and other lung diseases
need to cough.
- If you have a dry, hacking cough, ask your doctor
about an effective cough suppressant medicine.
- Look for suppressant
medicines containing dextromethorphan, such as Robitussin-DM or Vicks Dry
Hacking Cough. Studies show that over-the-counter cough medicines do not work
very well. And some of these medicines can cause problems if you use too much
of them. It is important to use medicines correctly and to keep them out of the
reach of children to prevent accidental use.
Cough preparation precautions
- Cough preparations can cause problems for
people with other health problems, such as
high blood pressure,
glaucoma, or an
enlarged prostate. Cough preparations may also
interact with other medicines, such as sedatives and certain antidepressants.
Read the package carefully or ask your pharmacist or doctor to help you choose
- Use cough preparations with caution if you are older than 60
or if you have chronic respiratory problems.
- Read the label so you
know what you are taking. Some cough preparations contain a large percentage of
alcohol. Others contain codeine. There are many choices. Ask your pharmacist to
- Do not take someone else's prescription cough
For more information on home treatment of respiratory
problems, see the Home Treatment section of the topic
Respiratory Problems, Age 12 and Older.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
| Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
| Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
- Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
- Do not take more than the
- Do not take a medicine if you have had an
allergic reaction to it in the past.
you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take
- If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other
than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
- Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
- Other symptoms develop, such as moderate to
severe chest wall pain with coughing, trouble breathing, a productive cough, or
- You start coughing up blood.
- A cough lasts
longer than 2 weeks without other respiratory symptoms.
become more severe or more frequent.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
February 7, 2013
©1995-2012, Healthwise, Incorporated, P.O. Box 1989, Boise, ID 83701.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
For more information,
How this information was developed.