10 No-Fail Ways to Silence a Dry Winter Cough

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woman coughing into arm with tissue

Everything about this time of year is merry and bright, right? Except that it's almost winter, and with several more months of cold weather on the way, we're almost constantly breathing in bone dry, low humidity air -- of the warm variety indoors and frigid kind outside. Not only is it hard on skin, but it's often the culprit behind a hacking cough or scratchy throat. Looking for a cure, or at least a way to fight back this winter?


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When winter comes, the only thing we all want is some relief from coughs and wheezing. But sometimes the dry air makes it impossible to fight back when a cough has us in its grip. We spoke with a doctor who gave us the 411 for dealing with winter sickness. "It is important for our airway passages, from the nose and mouth all the way into the lungs, to be moist at all times," explains Aaron Michelfelder, MD, family and integrative medicine physician at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Illinois. "When the air is too dry, it irritates the mucous membranes and can cause cough or sore throat." 

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The good news is that several simple measures can offer soothing relief. 

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  • Humidifier


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    Adding moisture to the air is an obvious first step, and that's why you may want to use a humidifier -- especially in the bedroom at night. "Humidifiers are helpful, but be careful to follow cleaning instructions from manufacturers, as humidifiers can grow mold if not cared for properly," advises Dr. Michelfelder.

    Another tip, especially for moms: Go for a cool mist humidifier over a warm mist one, which may cause burns from the heated water.

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  • Saline Nasal Spray or Neti Pot


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    While we may think of saline nasal drops, sprays, or nasal rinsing with a neti pot as the go-to remedy for congestion, the practice has various positive downstream effects by keeping passages moist, notes Dr. Michelfelder. Nasal rinsing will help you guard against that dry cough or throat, especially if it's being agitated by postnasal drip.

  • Lozenges


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    A quick, temporary fix for a dry throat is, of course, a lozenge -- particularly one that has menthol added for a cooling effect. "Lozenges will increase saliva production to help coat the throat," explains Dr. Michelfelder.


  • Drinking Licorice Tea


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    Licorice root has been shown to sooth airways and have anti-inflammatory action that have made it a traditional treatment for cough and asthma. Try drinking it in tea form to quell dry cough and throat symptoms.

  • Thyme


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    Licorice isn't the only tea that can fight a dry winter cough. Thyme is also a botanical remedy, one that's an official approved German treatment for coughs, upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, and whooping cough. "Thyme contains an array of naturally-occurring compounds that for centuries have been linked to reducing inflammation in the bronchial tubes," says Joseph C. Koval, MD, medical director for clinical performance at Geisinger-Community Medical Center in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

    You can make your own brew by mixing two teaspoons of crushed leaves in one cup boiling water, covering, then steeping for 10 minutes.

  • Gargling Salt Water


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    "Salt water also helps to hydrate our throat tissues and is very safe," says Dr. Michelfelder. "Just don't make the water too salty or it will actually dehydrate [you]." He recommends adding ½ tsp to 8 ounces of water.

  • Gargling Apple Cider Vinegar


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    Apple cider vinegar has been touted as a miracle cure for almost everything, it seems, but thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, anecdotal evidence suggests its a good bet for soothing a dry throat. Add a teaspoon in 8 ounces of water and gargle.

  • A Steamy Shower


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    Like the humidifier, taking a steamy shower can provide much-needed moisture that offers relief. If you don't feel like getting your whole body wet -- especially in hot water that will ultimately cause your skin to be more dry, unfortunately -- "put your head about a foot above a pot of boiling water ... but not so close or so fast that you burn your nose," advises Dr. Koval.

  • Honey


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    Try adding honey to tea or even taking two teaspoons of the sweet stuff straight. "Honey is a good natural element to add to any hot beverage or gargle solution when dealing with a sore throat," notes Dr. Michelfelder. "It's smooth, soothing texture helps open membranes in the throat and can relieve some pain symptoms."  Plus, research published in the Journal of Family Practice Medicine stated that it reduces cough frequency and severity.

  • Wearing a Scarf


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    Going outside and contending with dry, extremely coldair can act as a trigger for that cough. One way to combat this: "Cover your mouth with a scarf when going into very cold dry air," advises Dr. Michelfelder. This will help humidify and warm the air you're breathing.

    That said, "it's one thing to have an annoying dry cough, but anybody who has shortness of breath should see their doctor because there is such a thing as cold-induced asthma," Dr. Michelfelder notes. And you'll likely want to speak to your health care provider about different treatment options if that is the case.

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