Not only may over-the-counter medications (OTCs) for cold and cough have undesirable side effects such as nervousness, drowsiness and nausea, but their effectiveness is increasingly being called into question. Many studies, in fact, have found certain OTCs to be no more effective than placebo. When cough brought on by a cold, flu or seasonal allergies is a problem, consider natural home remedies that use honey, ginger and lemon. They’re safe and their effectiveness is proven.
In a study of 105 children published in the December 2007 issue of "JAMA Pediatrics," honey was shown to be more effective than dextromethorphan, the cough suppressant most commonly found in OTCs. Honey is rich in antioxidants, is a natural antibiotic and has topical antiinflammatory effect, so these properties may help explain how honey can help tame a cough. For the dry cough, honey’s natural sweetness also stimulates salivary secretions, which may ease irritation. For productive coughs, honey may help to clear mucus as well. The World Health Organization encourages the use of safe, soothing home remedies such as honey and lemon tea. The American Academy of Pediatricians suggests giving up to 1 teaspoon of straight of honey as needed to ease cough to children over the age of 1.
Ginger has been used for hundreds of years to treat respiratory conditions, including asthma and the common cold, both of which may bring on acute cough. Ginger has antiinflammatory properties that may help suppress allergies, and it has been shown to help respiratory function in mice by preventing constriction of a type of tissue in the airways called smooth muscle. According to the journal “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,” ginger’s well-established antioxidant compounds may be helpful in alleviating inflammatory effects of viral infections, which could make it useful in controlling cough. Some people make medicinal ginger infusions to ease cold symptoms by boiling 2 matchbox-sized pieces of peeled root ginger, chopped or ground, in 4 cups of drinking water for 15 minutes. The solution is divided into 3 parts, and 1 part is taken every 8 hours. Sweetening with honey may improve taste and offer additional benefit.
Lemon and Lime
Although research proving its effectiveness is scarce, lemon continues to be a go-to remedy for cough, cold and flu, and its abundance of antioxidants and vitamin C can’t be bad. Like honey, lemon and other strong flavors may help tame the cough reflex by stimulating saliva and decreasing irritation. Lemon-flavored teas have been used traditionally for soothing cough and cold symptoms. For a cough-easing lemon or lime drink, some people report deriving benefit using juice of 3 small limes or 1 to 2 lemons to a glass of water, adding 1 large spoonful of sugar to taste and drinking 1 glass 3 times a day.
Warnings and Precautions
Many products marketed as natural home remedies feature ginger, honey or lemon but also include other herbs and botanical agents. Read the label and proceed with caution with these products, as drug interactions and adverse effects are possible. Coughs from a cold or viral bronchial infection are common and usually go away by themselves. While viral coughs can linger for weeks, coughs that last more than 3 weeks may also indicate an underlying problem. A general rule is that If your cough lasts more than 3 weeks and/or has no known cause, it's probably time to see a doctor.
- Cochrane Library: Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications for Acute Cough in Children and Adults in Community Settings
- JAMA Pediatrics: Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents
- The World Health Organization: Cough and Cold Remedies for the Treatment of Acute Respiratory Infections in Young Children
- The American Academy of Pediatricians: Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?
- Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects: The Amazing and Mighty Ginger
- Potential of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Preventive Management of Novel H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) Pandemic: Thwarting Potential Disasters in the Bud
- BMJ: Cough Medicines’ Effect Is Mainly Placebo
- Integrative Medicine; David Rakel
- Chest Foundation: Cough
Andy Jackson has been writing professionally since 2010. He is a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jackson is also a lifestyle and weight management consultant whose work has appeared in various online publications. He holds a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and health, and a Master of Science in sports studies from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.