Coughing and shortness of breath are some of the most common symptoms of lung cancer. More than half of people with lung cancer have a cough. Persistent coughing can cause a person with lung cancer to experience worsened fatigue or weakness and sleep disturbances, both of which interfere with everyday quality of life.
There are steps you can take to help ease a lung cancer cough at home. If you have a persistent cough, start by talking to your health care provider. They will be able to determine the underlying cause and work with you to arrive at the best way of managing it. Sometimes, they may be able to address a specific reason causing the cough.
The following are over-the-counter (OTC) medications, natural remedies, and cough-suppression tips and techniques to try. Consult your health care team for their medical advice before starting any new treatments or remedies, especially if you are taking other medications or if you have allergies.
OTC medications are available for purchase without a prescription. There are two main types of OTC medications for cough relief: cough suppressants (antitussives) and expectorants. Cough suppressants block the cough reflex, and expectorants encourage the body to get rid of sputum (mucus) buildup.
Some examples of antitussives include the drugs benzonatate and dextromethorphan. A common cough suppressant brand is Robitussin. Expectorants include guaifenesin and glyceryl guaiacolate, including the common brand Mucinex.
Demulcents (such as cough drops and lozenges) can be purchased over the counter and help relieve pain caused by persistent or violent coughing. These medications work by forming a thick coating over the lining of the throat, which may help minimize coughing by reducing irritation.
Dry air can make anyone’s cough worse. You may find it helpful to add a humidifier to dry rooms to make the air more soothing and comfortable.
One 2007 study found that honey could help suppress a cough as well as some OTC cough medicines, due to honey’s antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
Honey is versatile and can be combined with other herbal remedies to address coughing. You can add a few teaspoons of honey to warm tea or lemon water for a calming, throat-soothing beverage.
Tea is useful for relaxation, which may help ease a cough, but tea is also widely used to help soothe the throat when a lung cancer cough has made it raw. As Penn Medicine recommends, chamomile, peppermint, and raspberry tea can help decrease inflammation and alleviate throat pain. Peppermint tea, in particular, provides pain relief by helping to numb the throat.
Ginger is another natural remedy used to reduce coughing episodes. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger may help relax the airways, allowing air to move in and out more easily, providing cough relief.
To prepare ginger tea, slice one small ginger root into thin slivers. Place the ginger in a cup of boiling water and let sit for several minutes to steep. Add honey as desired.
Ginger can also help relieve nausea and vomiting associated with lung cancer treatments like chemotherapy. As one MyLungCancerTeam member shared, “Ginger worked great! I did the ginger chews, and that really helped so I didn’t have to take medication all the time.”
Always talk to your oncologist or a physical therapist before adding any new physical activity into your health care routine. The doctor can provide advice regarding the best ways to approach these activities without exhausting yourself or exacerbating your symptoms.
Proper breathing is a prerequisite to minimizing persistent cough episodes. Deep breathing exercises can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing shortness of breath.
When practicing breathing exercises, start with your lips pursed, which may help you control your rate of breathing and encourages the airways to stay open. Inhale slowly through your nose, hold it in for one to two seconds, and gently exhale through your pursed lips.
It may seem counterintuitive, but proper coughing can be a prerequisite to eliminating coughing. With the proper coughing techniques, the body can better eliminate phlegm that may be contributing to coughing.
Assume a comfortable and upright posture before you begin. You may need to bend forward slightly at the trunk to get your thoracic “cough muscles” in the optimal position. Then, breathe in and let out a forceful cough. Make sure that the cough comes from the diaphragm (the muscle just below the lungs and ribs) and not just from the throat.
These OTC and at-home tips may be best used in conjunction with the medications prescribed by your health care team to manage lung cancer and its other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, breathlessness, hoarseness, chest pain, and discomfort. Talk to your oncologist about prescription cough- and pain-relief medications that may be used alongside your other drugs or treatments for lung cancer.
Managing a chronic cough caused by lung cancer can be a challenge. However, know that you are not alone. MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer. Members come together to share their experiences, ask questions, and support each other through their journeys with lung cancer.
Do you have tips to help relieve lung cancer cough? Share your insights in the comments below or by posting on MyLungCancerTeam.