Print on Demand


A cough is a reflex action. It clears the lungs and airways of irritants, mucus, a foreign body, etc.

Signs & Symptoms

There are 3 kinds of Coughs

•  Productive. This cough brings up mucus or phlegm.

•  Nonproductive. This cough is dry. It doesn’t bring up any mucus.

•  Reflex. This cough is from a problem somewhere else like the ear or stomach.



•  Tobacco smoke. Dry air.

•  Asthma.

•  An allergy or an infection.

•  Acid reflux from the stomach.

•  Certain medications, like ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure.

•  Something stuck in the windpipe.

•  A collapsed lung.

•  A growth or tumor in the bronchial tubes or lungs.


How to treat a cough depends on what kind it is, what caused it, and other symptoms. Treat the cause and soothe the irritation. Self-care can treat most coughs. If the cause is due to a medical condition, treatment for that condition is needed.

American Lung Association

800.LUNG.USA (586.4872)

Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

For Coughs that Bring Up Mucus

•  Drink plenty of liquids.

•  Don’t smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke.

•  Use a cool-mist vaporizer, especially in the bedroom. Put a humidifier on the furnace.

•  Take a shower. The steam helps thin mucus.

•  Use an over-the-counter expectorant medicine, as directed. This helps you spit out phlegm or mucus. Try a decongestant for postnasal drip.

For Coughs that Are Dry

•  Drink lots of liquids. Hot drinks like tea with lemon and honey soothe the throat.

•  Suck on cough drops or hard candy. (Don’t give these to children under age 5.)

•  Take an over-the-counter cough medicine that has dextromethorphan.

•  Make your own cough medicine. Mix 1 part lemon juice and 2 parts honey. (Don’t give this to children less than 1 year old.)

Other Tips

•  Don’t smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke. Avoid chemical gases that can hurt your lungs.

•  Don’t give children under age 5 small objects that can easily get caught in the throat or windpipe. Examples are buttons, balloons, peanuts, and popcorn. Even adults should be careful to chew and swallow foods slowly so they don’t “go down the wrong way.”

•  If you cough and have heartburn symptoms when you lie down, try a liquid antacid. Don’t lie down for 2 to 3 hours after you eat.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


The American Institute for Preventive Medicine (AIPM) is not responsible for the availability or content of external sites, nor does AIPM endorse them. Also, it is the responsibility of the user to examine the copyright and licensing restrictions of external pages and to secure all necessary permission.


The content on this website is proprietary. You may not modify, copy, reproduce, republish, upload, post, transmit, or distribute, in any manner, the material on the website without the written permission of AIPM.