A productive cough, or wet cough, is any cough that produces mucous or phlegm. It is always important for one to check with a trusted doctor or health practitioner if there is concern about a productive cough. However, there are some easy home remedies which can be helpful in treating a productive cough in children or adults.
Symptoms and Causes of a Wet Cough
When the immune system sends neutrophils or white blood cells to the area of infection, it results in the production of thick dark green or yellow phlegm. Sometimes a productive cough can occur with simple allergies, asthma, or acid reflux. A productive cough may be an indication of a viral or bacterial infection, sinus infection, or a lower respiratory tract infection, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, or tuberculosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Other serious causes or chronic cough may be lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, pneumothorax, bronchiectasis, and pulmonary embolism.
When to See a Doctor
Coughs play a role in cleaning the body, but persistent coughing can be uncomfortable and fatiguing. The best treatment depends on the cause. One should always see a doctor or trusted physician if there is a concern.
Symptoms of concern with a wet cough may include:
- Cough lasting more than three weeks
- Severe sore throat
- Thick, dark colored, or bloody mucous
- Foul smelling mucous
- Wheezing or difficulty breathing
- Chills or sweats
- Fainting or feeling lightheaded
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
There are certain precautions and actions one can take to prevent flu, colds, viral or bacterial infections and to reduce the chances of developing a productive cough.
- Stay hydrated, drink plenty of water
- Get enough sleep
- Avoid interactions with those who have the flu
- Use an air purifier
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water
- Reduce stress by eliminating any life activities that cause
- Take supplements, vitamin C, and zinc.
- Take probiotics
Treatment for Productive Cough
The common treatment for a bacterial infection is antibiotics and expectorants. However, there are alternative treatments or home remedies which are recommended as safe and supportive in alleviating the uncomfortable symptoms of a productive cough. These treatments can be used in combination with orthodox treatments. It is important to spit up the mucous or phlegm and not swallow it. It may be difficult for infants or small children to understand this. It’s always best to speak with your health care professional before making major changes to the diet and/or adding supplements. Some natural home remedies and treatments include:
- Herbs and hot herbal tea – Sipping hot herbal tea three times a day, such as ginger, honey, black pepper, rose hips, cinnamon, herbal chai, cayenne, thyme, pine, mullein, horehound, lemon, peppermint, licorice root, slippery elm, marshmallow root, marjoram, mullein, and warm fruit juices can be soothing and helpful in breaking up the mucous. Black tea has long been used as an emergency alternative treatment for an asthma attack, when an inhaler is not available.
- Hot soup – Hot soups such as egg drop soup, vegetable broth or chicken broth help keep one nourished, hydrated, and help to break up congestion. In addition to treating the cough, soup is also soothing for those with upset stomach or other flu-like symptoms which often accompany a wet cough. It may be helpful to ingest water-based, lighter soups rather than cream or milk-based, heavy, meaty, or fatty soups. Rich, heavy soups, high in fat, can produce mucous in the body. Other effective ingredients in soups include: Miso, garlic, lime, lemon, tai, ginger, black pepper, cabbage, tomato, or fennel.
- Plaster or poultice – Poultices or plasters help to pull out the toxins in the body and have been used for centuries. Common poultices are: mustard, potato, plantain, turmeric, onion and comfrey. A mustard plaster is created by mixing one part dry mustard with three parts flour. Water is slowly added, to create a thick creamy paste. Use an unwanted cloth, such as an old cotton T-shirt, handkerchief, pillowcase, or cheesecloth, fold it and place it on the chest. A chest rub or plaster of camphor and menthol can be effective when applied to the throat and chest.
- Inhalants or steam -A wet cough may improve with inhaling steam from a steaming hot pot of water. Be careful to eliminate any accidental burning the face or hands. Place a towel over one’s head to create a tent of steam, while leaning a safe distance over the container to inhale the steam. One can get the same results from a hot shower, sauna, hot tub, or hot bath. If you heat the entire body, it’s important to hydrate oneself with water afterward to cool down. If you have a fever, you should not heat up the body. It is best to use a steam or cool mist humidifier. Inhaling the vapors of eucalyptus essential oil can calm a cough. Eucalypus oil can cause a severe allergic reaction if put directly onto the skin. G eranium extract can be helpful in treating cough, cold, and bronchitis. Geranium essential oil can be added to a diffuser. Some people are allergic to geranium oil.
- Honey – Honey is a very effective treatment for excess phlegm. Eating 1.5 teaspoons of honey 30 minutes before going to sleep can help reduce cough and encourage sound sleep.
- Gargle – Gargling warm sea salt water is soothing to the throat and helpful in breaking up mucous. The saltwater pulls the moisture away from a swollen throat which then causes the swelling to go down.
- Homemade cough syrups – Mixing honey, lemon, lime, and ginger can be an effective homemade cough syrup. Another cough syrup recipe calls for chopped ginger and chopped peppermint to water and honey. Turmeric also can be added to honey and water for a soothing tea or syrup depending on the consistency. A syrup made of onions and sugar are part of a cure for coughing that dates to the Depression era, according to “The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies.” A mixture of cloves, honey and water, can also be an effective treatment of wet cough to dull the pain and reduce inflammation.
- Lemons – Sucking on a lemon can be very helpful in soothing the throat and breaking up mucous.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – NAC comes from L-cysteine, an amino acid. If taken daily, it may decrease the frequency and severity of a wet cough by reducing mucus in the airways. NAC can have severe side effects. A physician should be consulted before taking NAC.
- Bromelain supplements may be effective at relieving a cough. Bromelain has anti-inflammatory properties and can be helpful in breaking down and removing mucus from the body. People who take antibiotics or blood thinners shouldn’t take bromelain.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C is vital to supporting the immune system. Foods high in vitamin C include oranges, blueberries, kale, kiwi and red peppers.
- Natural herbal cough drops or lozenges – Horehound, slippery elm, or peppermint lozenges are effective in soothing a cough. Lemon drops work especially well for wet coughs.
- Neti pot – Using a neti pot can be effective in treating a wet cough. Research has shown that nasal irrigation can sooth sore throats and reduce the symptoms of wet cough in both children and adults.
- Echinacea – Echinacea can build up the immune system. It works on viral and bacterial infections, and is sold in tablet form. Those with autoimmune suppressant disorders should not take Echinacea.
A productive cough can be alleviated by simple home remedies including supplements, diet changes, lifestyle changes, lozenges, syrups, poultices, humidifiers and others. Always consult with your trusted health professional when beginning a new health regimen. If symptoms worsen, or more serious symptoms develop, such as those listed above, it is important to check with your doctor or health practitioner.
14 Soothing Soups For Cold And Flu Season
How to Get Rid of a Dry Cough: 12 Home Remedies
What can I do to make my cough go away?
Cough: productive or ‘wet’ cough treatments
10 natural cough remedies
Treating a Wet Cough at Home: 10 Natural Remedies
When should you worry about a cough?
Natural Home Remedies: Coughs
Phlegm Cough Home Remedies
What can I do to make my cough go away?
Wet Cough Remedies Using Herbs
The best home and herbal remedies for a cough
Jean Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University, is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder, and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, a 501(c)3 health education nonprofit organization. All photos used in this article are by www.pixabay.com unless otherwise noted. To find out more about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance visit www.montereybayholistic.com
Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.