How to Loosen Mucus & Phlegm in a Dry Cough

A persistent dry cough can be irritating and at times, even painful. It occurs from inflammation of the throat and airways, and does not produce any phlegm or mucus. There are, however, a number of key things you can do that will loosen congestion and provide relief.

Step 1

Use a vaporizer or humidifier in the room in which you spend most of your time, or at night while you sleep. Moisture in the air you breathe will keep your lungs moist and help your cough turn productive to bring up mucus. If you don't have access to vaporizer or humidifier, taking a steamy shower, or just running hot water in your bathroom and staying inside the steam-filled room can help, as well.


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Step 2

Drink plenty of clear fluids such as fruit juices, tea, or simply water. Staying well hydrated will provide your body with the extra fluid it needs if your cough is due to a cold or infection. Try soothing, steamy drinks as well, such as hot tea with lemon juice and honey, which can relieve irritation in your throat while keeping your body hydrated.

Step 3

Take a decongestant medication such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, both of which are available over-the-counter. A decongestant will help reduce any postnasal drip, which may be contributing to the tightness in your chest.

Step 4

Rub a menthol ointment on your chest to help you breathe, especially at night. Menthol is derived from peppermint, and is an all-natural tool to help loosen and break up mucus in your lungs, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Step 5

Stop smoking cigarettes, and avoid being in a smoky environment while you have a dry cough. Cigarette smoke will irritate your lungs, and can lead to an even drier, less productive cough. If you're a smoker, consider switching to a nicotine gum or patch until your cough is gone.

Things You'll Need

  • Decongestant

  • Menthol ointment

  • Fruit juice or tea

  • Vaporizer or humidifier


If your dry cough worsens or produces blood, contact your physician immediately.



references & resources

Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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