The cough reflex is intended to expel mucus and other unwanted material from the breathing passages. However, sometimes it takes on a life of its own and causes an unproductive cough that seems to serve no purpose except to keep you awake.
The most common cause of coughing is a viral infection. Sometimes a chronic cough may indicate asthma , either allergic or created temporarily by a respiratory infection. Other causes of cough include sinus drainage tickling the throat and chronic bronchitis.
Proposed Natural Treatments
Although many herbs have been used historically to treat coughs, none has been shown effective in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial . Without such trials it is impossible to know whether a treatment really works, regardless of its reputation. (For a discussion of the many ways in which people can be fooled into thinking that an ineffective treatment is effective, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? ) A few studies that lack a placebo group are sometimes cited in support of traditional cough remedies, but these are almost as unreliable as completely unscientific anecdotes.
Many herbs are categorized as mucilaginous (gluey), and are said to coat the throat. These include marshmallow , mullein , plantain , and slippery elm . The herbs ivy leaf, primula root, and soap bark contain chemicals called saponins, which are said to loosen mucus. Other herbs used for coughs include elecampane , garlic , horehound , hyssop , lobelia , and licorice . Essential oils such as anise, eucalyptus , fennel , peppermint , and thyme are often included in cough preparations or added to a vaporizer. As noted above, there is no meaningful scientific evidence that any of these treatments are effective. However, since much the same situation exists for standard cough suppressants, they may be worth trying.
The most common cause of a cough is a respiratory infection; for this reason, herbs and supplements used to treat colds may be worth considering as well.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 07/2012 -
- Update Date: 07/25/2012 -