There’s nothing that can make you or a loved one feel worse than having a cold with a nasty cough or sore throat to go along with it. Trying to treat cold and cough with over the counter medications can get pricey. Believe it or not, all those cough medicines in the pharmacy boil down to just 2 different types of cough syrups, antitussive or expectorant. If you’re looking to learn how to make these 2 types of cough syrups and customize for your cough, so you can save a little money in your budget, we can help.
Before you can adequately treat a cough, it’s very important to know why you have a cough and what type of cough it is. Home remedies can definitely help treat coughing but it’s also critical to rule out a serious medical condition before you try to treat a cough on your own. If you have other symptoms along with your cough, you may want to add additional ingredients to your cough syrup to help relieve those symptoms as well.
In this article we’ll describe the five different basic types of coughs, explain the 2 types of OTC cough medicines and when to use them, and then give you ingredients and recipes to show you how to make customized versions of 2 types of cough syrups on your own to replace those OTC cough medicines.
5 Common Types of Coughs
There are basically five different types of coughs. The best way to know which type of cough you have is to see a doctor who can diagnose your cough and rule out any underlying condition that requires antibiotics. But if you’re determined to forgo pharmaceuticals, below are the types of cough you need to learn to recognize so you can learn how to make types of cough syrups:
1. Whooping Cough which can start with what seems like cold symptoms and then progress to serious coughing that lingers several weeks. Whooping cough is highly contagious and requires a vaccination to be protected against it. It can be fatal, especially in young children.
2. Post-Viral Cough caused by throat inflammation and typically occurs following an infection of the upper respiratory tract
3. Chest Cough which is also called a productive cough because the coughing serves a purpose of expelling mucus from the chest.
4. Bronchitis cough typically results in yellowish-gray phlegm and frequently comes along with additional symptoms such as fatigue, stuffy nose, and headache.
5. Tickling, Dry Cough results when the throat fails to produce sufficient mucus. Throat feels dry, irritated which results in frequent or continuous coughing.
So now that you know the five types of coughs that are most common, we will look first at OTC medications to treat cough and how they work. Then we will explore some of the natural ingredients you probably already have in your cupboard or fridge that can be used to treat coughing.
Finally we’ll give you suggestions on how to combine those ingredients so you can learn how to make 2 types of cough syrups and suggest ways to customize them to treat other symptoms you may be having with your cough.
2 Types of Cough Syrups
Antitussives (Cough Suppressants)
What Do Antitussives Do?
Works to suppress coughing. Believed to work by disrupting the reflex to cough by inhibiting the corresponding region in the brain stem. Benzonatate is a non narcotic antitussive that essentially numbs receptors in breathing passages and thus squelches the coughing urge. The primary ingredient in most antitussives is dextromethorphan.
Common brands of antitussives are Robitussin Cough, Triaminic Cold and Cough, or Vicks 44 Cough and Cold. There are also antitussive topical ointments, such as Vicks VapoRub, specifically designed to quell coughing when applied to the throat, chest, or even the bottom of your feet.
When to Use Antitussives?
Antitussive type cough syrups are best for dry coughing that is frequent enough to interrupt sleep or daily functioning. If coughing lasts more than 7 days, or you have a fever that lasts more than two days, see your doctor for further evaluation and treatment.
Warnings About Antitussives
• Antitussives are NOT recommended for children without doctor monitoring and supervision
• Most OTC antitussives are derived from opioids (codeine, dextromethorphan, pholcodine)
• Do NOT use an antitussive for a wet or productive cough without first checking with your doctor.
What Does an Expectorant Do?
The purpose of an expectorant, or mucolytic, is to help thin and loosen mucus throughout the bronchial passages and make it easier to breathe. Phlegm is easier to cough up from the lungs and this helps to remove secretions and irritants from the respiratory system. The most common expectorant is Guaifenesin, the primary active ingredient in brand names such as Robitussin Chest Congestion and Mucinex.
When to Use an Expectorant
• If you or a loved one has a “wet” cough
• When chest is congested but little phlegm is being produced with coughing
• If coughing is producing thick white, green, or yellow phlegm that is difficult to get up
Warnings for Expectorants:
Expectorants can cause some side effects in some people including:
Do NOT use an expectorant type cough syrup if you are also taking sleeping aids, muscle relaxers, antidepressants, anti-seizure medication, or narcotic pain medication without the approval and supervision of your physician.
If your cough is accompanied by chills, fever, or shortness of breath and phlegm is yellow, green, or sometimes bloody, you should see a doctor to rule out pneumonia.
Natural Ingredients for Cough Syrups
When it comes to making the 2 types of cough syrups on your own, you likely have a lot of ingredients already in your kitchen. Below are some of the common natural ingredients you can use to make either expectorant or antitussive type cough syrups at home.
One of the best ways to treat viral coughs is to drink more fluids, especially water and increase humidity in the airways using a dehumidifier or moist steam. Drinking fluids if you are congested helps to thin mucus and make it easier to expel. Any cough that produces phlegm that is pink, red, or brown in color could be a symptom of a serious medical problem and you should make an appointment with a physician as soon as possible.
This all natural ingredient is a natural way to coat your throat, reduce congestion, and relieve coughing. Honey, especially honey from local sources in your area, can even help prevent cough due to allergies. Honey contains numerous antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes your body needs to fight infections. The anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties of honey work to reduce inflammation and boost your immune system and reduce coughing.
This spice which is probably already in your kitchen cupboard is believed to pair well with apple cider vinegar to relieve inflammation and pain caused from coughing. It may also work to stimulate a more productive cough and help to clear lungs and airways.
Apple Cider Vinegar
This common kitchen ingredient is known to work as a natural cough suppressant to reduce coughing. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, Vitamin E, probiotics, and acids. ACV is believed to work to break congestion and boost your immune system as well as shorten the duration of the common cold.
It can be used to gargle (¼ cup ACV to ¼ cup warm water) or as a topical ointment (rub small amount around sinuses and on throat or spray on pillow overnight). To make a cough syrup, mix 1 part ACV with 5 parts warm water. Add other ingredients as needed for additional symptoms.
Precautions: ACV is highly acidic and should always be diluted with water before drinking. If you have acid reflux, GERD, or stomach ulcers, ACV may not be your best choice. Rinse teeth after drinking as it’s believe the acids in ACV can erode tooth enamel. Talk to your doctor before using ACV to relieve coughing in a child.
If you do any kind of cooking from scratch you most likely keep fresh lemons or lemon juice in your refrigerator. Lemon is an ingredient that makes a great addition to any cough syrup because of its natural anti-bacterial and immune system boosting properties.
White Pineapple Juice
If you have white pineapple juice available, it contains bromelain, an enzyme that has been used for its anti-inflammatory properties following surgery or injury to the sinuses or nose. Adding this ingredient to your cough syrup could be beneficial if you are experiencing coughing accompanied by congestion of the nose or sinuses. Do not take with antibiotics unless approved by physician as it can increase antibiotic absorption.
The natural analgesic properties in cinnamon make it the perfect addition to any cough syrup.It pairs well with honey in a cough syrup. When possible, use Ceylon cinnamon, no more than 2 ½ teaspoons daily, because it is true cinnamon and higher quality. “Regular” ground cinnamon (Cassia) contains coumarin which can damage the liver in large quantities, stick to a teaspoon or less daily.
Additional Ingredients To Use for Cough Syrups
Many people turn to their herb garden or forage wild edibles to use to customize the 2 types of cough syrups. Below are some of these herbs and wild edibles you may want to keep on hand for making cough syrups:
• use as antitussive
• Do Not use for children without physician approval
• shortens duration of cold and flu
• Use as expectorant
• May relieve fever
• boosts immune system
• Natural sedative
• Decongestant for sinuses
• Headache relief
• Sleep aid
• Relieves nausea
Garlic (freshly cut or crushed)
• Boosts immune system
• Boosts immune system
• Nausea and vomiting relief
• May ease fever
• Use as an expectorant
• Also high in mucilage to soothe throat
• Can reduce fever
• Do not use for children without doctor approval
A Few Cough Syrup Recipes
Sore Throat Relief from Good Life Eats
This recipe is chock full of ingredients to coat a painful sore throat and boost your immune system.
• Apple Cider Vinegar
• Ground Ginger
• Cayenne Pepper
• Lemon Juice
Mix well in a jar, store in refrigerator.
Honey Cough Syrup from Wellness Mama
This honey based cough syrup is suggested for frequent coughing that just won’t let you or a loved one get any rest. The mucilaginous properties of the honey and marshmallow root coats your raw throat to soothe.
• Filtered water (1 quart)
• Honey (1 cup)
• Dried or fresh grated Ginger Root (¼ cup)
• Marshmallow Root (¼ cup)
• Chamomile Flowers (¼ cup)
• Cinnamon (1 Tablespoon)
• Lemon Juice (¼ cup)
Add herbs and water to pan and heat to boiling and then simmer until about half liquid is reduced. Strain through cheesecloth or mesh strainer. Add lemon juice and honey while liquid is warm and stir thoroughly. This mixture can be refrigerated for up to 60 days.
Five Flavors Cough Syrup by Learning Herbs
Inspired by traditional Chinese belief that a meal isn’t complete without all five flavors (salty, bitter, sweet, sour, and pungent), this cough syrup encompasses five flavors in an herbal cough syrup.
• Water (2 cups)
• Elderberries (sour)- ½ cup dried or 1 cup fresh
• Elecampane root (pungent and bitter), aka wild sunflower or scabwort -¼ cup dried
• Plantain (salty)- ¼ cup dried or ½ cup fresh
• Honey (sweet)- ½ cup honey
Bring herbs and water to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain using cheesecloth. Return remaining ½ cup liquid to clean pan. Add honey and stir thoroughly. Warm honey if needed to mix completely. Pour into bottle and refrigerate for up to 30 days.
Not recommended for children under the age of 2 years old because of honey. Ages 2 and up use 1 tsp every hour as needed. Adults 1 tablespoon up to 2x per hour as needed.
Were you aware of the similarities among all those types of pharmaceutical cough syrups? Do you have a favorite expectorant cough syrup you make yourself? What about a favorite antitussive type cough syrup? Share your experiences and recipes in the comments below.
A mother of four and grandmother of nine boys and one girl, Megan is living the lifestyle any prepper would want. Gardening, homesteading and constantly planning for emergencies big and small, she’s a beacon of knowledge in the prepping community.