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Coughs (and how to get through the night)

If you would like further in depth help with a cough or other acute illness then please get in touch or make an appointment for my half hour Drop In Phone/Skype Clinic. Existing patients and those with short queries are welcome to use my FREE 15 minute Check in appointment for advice. I work internationally via Skype or face-to-face in Brixton, London, UK.

What Causes a Cough?

Coughs are caused by an irritation in the respiratory tract somewhere anywhere between the larynx and the deep parts of the lungs. Your body's response is to use the coughing mechanism to clear your airways of mucus, bugs and foreign particles.  Common causes can include dust fumes or smoke, an allergy  or a throat or chest infection. 


Is a cough dangerous?

A cough can be exhausting and irritating, especially at night, but it's rarely a cause for major concern on its own. However, if there are other problems, such as a heart condition or the new infection is in addition to a long-term chest infection, such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, then seek medical help.


Most coughs that come as part of a cold or flu usually disappear after 10 days and are not serious. However, a chronic cough that has lasted three weeks or more should always be investigated by your GP. ​The NHS advises ​a visit to the doctor if:  

Some self help measures for day and night: 

Day time:

* Get plenty to drink to stay hydrated but avoid acidic drinks like fruit juice or sugary drinks as they may irritate the throat. 

* One fruit juice that can help however is pineapple juice which is high in Bromelain, an anti-inflammatory enzyme, great for chasing infections away. Some people say it's better than cough syrup.

*  Ginger tea is one of the best home remedies for cough in adults. Slice fresh ginger and boil it in some water. Drink this water at least 3-4 times a day.

*  Add Manuka honey to warm water (or your ginger tea) and sip throughout the day.

* Avoid smoke, strong air fresheners and other airborne irritants.


Night time: 

* At night use a steamer, humidifier or relax in a steaming bath or shower to bathe your airways in mist and loosen the mucus.

* For a dry cough, at night try keeping some salt by the bed. Every time your cough wakes you, take a pinch of salt and put it on the tongue - this encourages salivation which can ease the cough.

* If the cough is caused by a cold or flu then place a few drops of your favourite essential oil onto your pillow at night to help you breathe more easily. Rosemary, lavender or sage work well.

Can I use homeopathy for a cough?

First Aid Homeopathy means that you will need an homeopathic remedy kit as part of your home medicine cabinet such as the Helios Homeopathic Pharmacy 'Basic 36' and 'Emergency' kits. If you don't yet have a kit, you can call Helios and they will advise over the phone and send the right remedies out the next day. You may also find the remedy you are looking for at your local Holland & Barrett or health food store. 


There are many many cough remedies in homeopathy but to make it easy let's break them down into dry coughs (tickly, no phlegm/mucus), and wet coughs (chesty with lots of phlegm/mucus). Choose the remedy where the symptoms listed fit best to your symptoms. You may not see all the symptoms, but one or two will stand out.

Dry coughs

A dry cough is one that is 'unproductive' ie. produces little or no phlegm or 'expectoration'. It is often the result of infection by cold and flu viruses. It can also be triggered by atmospheric pollutants (such as cigarette smoke) irritating your throat. In most of these situations, dry coughs occur because the back of your throat has become irritated or inflamed, but may also arise from deeper in the chest.



Sudden onset  *  Often after getting cold or wet  * Anxious and fear of dying   *  Restless   *  Very Thirsty  *   * ​ Constant short, dry cough: loud, hard, ringing, painful, croupy  *  No expectoration  *  Suffocating  *  Worse night time  * Indicated in first stages of Whooping Cough *


Gradual onset   *  Dry, barking cough  *  Sharp, stabbing pains in throat and chest  *  Worse slightest movement  *  Better for holding the chest  *  Great thirst for water at long intervals  *  Cough worse for eating, drinking, entering a warm room  *  Worse evenings and night time  *


Cough is hard, dry, hurts whole chest  *  Chest seems full of mucus, feels that if he could only cough a little deeper he could get it up  * Better for cold water  *  Urine may escape while coughing (also seen in Rumex, Phos)   *  Phlegm/mucus may taste oddly of almonds  *


Dry, irritating, spasmodic cough  *  Sounds barking or choking  *  Cough 'as soon as the head hits the pillow'  *  Often hoarse voice with the cough  *  Endless rounds of coughing and then gasping for air  *  Cough so hard you may vomit or have a nosebleed  *  Must sit up  *  Sickly, sunken, pale face  * Bronchitis, pneumonia, especially in children and the old  *  Better for lying on right side  * Indicated in Whooping Cough *

Hep Sulph

A dry (or rattling) cough  * Cough can be barking, hoarse OR loose rattling, choking . *  Very chilly  *  Yellow phlegm  * Possible sinus pressure  *  Splinter like pains in the throat  *   Cough worse for cold dry wind, walking or exposure to cold by any part of the body  *  Highly sensitive to pain, cold and touch  *  Irritable and depressed *  Indicated in Whooping Cough  *


Tight dry, tickling cough  *  Often tickling sensation low down in the airways  *  Desire for big glugs of iced water, which may be vomited up soon after drinking   * Wants company  *

Rumex crispus

Dry, tickling cough  *  Prevents sleep  *  Sounds barking  *  Incessant and tiring cough  *  Tickling sensation in throat, as if a breadcrumb is stuck there  *  Dry mucus membranes followed by sticky mucus  *  Cough worse by lying on  your left side, inhaling cool air, at night *


Spongia tosta

Dry, barking, croupy cough  *  Wheezing,  rasping  *  Like breathing through a sponge  *  Larynx is sensitive to touch  *  Raw, tearing & burning pain in larynx from coughing  *  Sounds  dry  *  Hoarse voice  *  Cough is worse in warm room, talking  *  Better for warm drinks  *  Indicated in Whooping Cough *


Wet coughs

A wet/chesty cough is triggered by excessive mucus in the chest. A 'productive cough' is one that brings up the mucus also known as 'expectoration' and is most often the result of an infection by cold and flu viruses accompanied by symptoms of the cold or flu, such as a blocked nose, fever etc.


Antimonium tartaricum

Wet, rattling cough  *  Made worse after eating and lying down  *  Cough may end in vomiting  *  Mucus is thick and difficult to cough up  * Breathless,  or wheezy and noisy chest  *  Lungs seem full of mucus yet less and less is raised  *  Gasping for air before every attack of cough  * Cough worse in warm rooms, overheating & warm weather  *  Better for cold, open air, sitting upright  * Indicated in Whooping Cough *

Ferrum phos:

Short, painful,  tickling cough  *  Sore chest   *   Hacking, tormenting, spasmodic  *  Lots of mucus brought up  *  Worse at night  *  Better cold application,  lying down  *

Hep Sulph

A rattling (or dry) cough  * Cough can be loose rattling, choking  OR dry, barking, hoarse  *  Very chilly  *  Yellow phlegm  * Possible sinus pressure  *  Splinter like pains in the throat  *   Cough worse for cold dry wind, walking or exposure to cold  of any part of the body  *  Highly sensitive to pain, cold and touch  *  Irritable and depressed *  Indicated in Whooping Cough  *



Spasmodic cough   * Produces lots of mucus which may be vomited up  *  Cough is incessant and violent with every breath  *  Person often feels nauseous and vomits  *  Cough worse in warm/damp air  *  Better from open air  *


Mercurius solubis

Shortness of breath when coughing  *   Lots of  yellow/green phlegm, easily coughed up  *  Cough worse from drafts, taking cold, changing weather and temperature, night  *  Better in the mornings.


Cough is productive in the day but dry at night  *   Thick, yellow and loose phlegm  *   Worse for  hot/stuffy rooms, warm air  *  Better from cool, fresh/open air  *  Changeable symptoms and moods  *  Craves sympathy  *​ Low thirst or thirstless *


Loose, violent cough with retching and gagging  *  Brought about by tickling in larynx or chest  *  Thick, tenacious, yellow, salty expectoration  *  Severe coughing on rising in the morning with much expectoration but no expectoration in the evening/OR expectoration at night but none in the day  * Feeling tired, indifferent, wants to get away  *


Stannum Met

Loose with heavy, green, sweetish or salty mucus, expelled by forcible cough  *  Sensation of great weakness in chest. Chest feels empty  * Cough excited by laughing, talking, singing  * Chest feels sore and worse lying on right side. 

What's the correct dose?  

You should take one dose (one pill) in the 200c potency if you have it to hand, and then wait (unless you are a sensitive person - ie. a tendency to allergies - in which case you should use 30c potency only). Repeat after 20 minutes if necessary. If you only have 30c potency then you can give more ie. three or four times, 20 minutes apart each time. If the patient does not feel any relief, try the next remedy on the list that appears to fit best to the patient's symptoms.


PS. Put the remedy under the tongue and let it dissolve in the mouth.  If possible avoid eating and drinking for 10 minutes before and after taking the remedy, as well as touching it with your hands - try tipping it into your mouth from the bottle lid, or with a clean spoon.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of your physician or health care provider. First aid situations may require medical or hospital care. Do not use this article as a means to diagnose a health condition. Speak to your doctor if you think that your condition may be serious, before discontinuing any medication that has been prescribed for you, or before starting any new treatment.

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