How to Stop Coughing

For those of you who know I am a fan of Vicks™ on the feet, and think that this post is going to reiterate that, think again. I have something better that works like a charm. It seems magic, it works so well. It works for adults as well as children.

A couple of years ago during a particularly bad cold where I could not stop coughing no matter what, I wanted to determine what a cough was exactly so that perhaps I could then figure out how to stop it. I had been coughing for days, couldn’t sleep, and was sick to death of the constant tickling in my throat and ache in my head from coughing and coughing and coughing.

I figured out that a lot of cough is a reflex designed to prevent pulmonary aspiration, promote the movement of cilia in the lungs, and to clear airway debris. The reflex is partially triggered by blood in the throat. The purpose behind plasters (covering the chest or feet with different ingredients) to stop coughs is to pull blood away from the vessels into the throat. The point then, of putting Vicks™ or its equivalent on the chest or feet is to draw blood away from the throat, thereby relieving the cough.

I became a major fan of the Vicks™ approach because it worked so well on my baby daughter, who was age one at the time. I figured this out and was suffering mightily from a cold as well. I had given her the children’s version of cough medicine and it wasn’t working any better than the adult version was working for me. My research also brought up medical study after medical study showing how ineffective cough medicine really is. When I put Vicks on my baby’s feet, her coughs would stop within a minute. It was miraculous. She would be sleeping peacefully within minutes.

Yet the Vicks™ approach did not always work so well for me during a particularly bad cold this fall. I have a friend who complained it did not work for her at all. Lying awake coughing one night, I pondered this. Why would it work so well for small children and not adults? The answer it seemed to me was that the soles of the feet of adults are thicker than those of small children. One part of the Vicks™ on the feet approach that I did not like was that I had to spread it on really thick and cover my feet with socks, otherwise the sheets would get covered in petroleum jelly, the ingredient in Vicks™ that holds it together. I scanned my body, considering all the places where blood vessels would be near the surface that would take blood away from the neck. I realized that the wrists are just about perfect. The veins are right there near the surface of the skin, and wrists are far away from the neck.

I started putting Vicks™ on my wrists. It worked much better than feet. However, there was still the issue of petroleum jelly getting all over everything and leaving an oily residue, even after washing. The ingredients in Vicks are camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus. (Incidentally, I never actually used the Vicks™ brand because it is stupidly expensive and the generic version is exactly the same thing.)

Then one afternoon my teenage daughter pointed out that the ingredients in pain relieving cream (aka BenGay™, Icy Hot™, Mentholatum Deep Heat™, and the lot) are virtually identical, except without the petroleum jelly. We had a couple of tubes of generic pain relieving cream. The next time Milla had a cold, she used this on her wrists and claimed it worked better than anything we had used to date. The ingredients are camphor, menthol, and methyl salicylate, which is essentially wintergreen oil. The best part about this stuff is that it is extremely cheap (I paid $2.39 for a 4 ounce tube), and because the veins in the wrist are so close to the surface of the skin, you do not need much to get a result. The cream is not greasy and doesn’t leave any residue on the clothes. Plus the wintergreen smells good. I was also able to purchase a menthol stick designed for sore muscles, which is the best approach of all. Menthol has become our new coughing charm.

My 5-year-old has had a cold for about a week. She sleeps with me and started coughing several nights ago. I keep a stick of menthol rub on the bedside table. She coughs, I rub a small amount on her wrists, the coughing stops in under 20 seconds and she stays asleep for several hours. It’s miraculous. One night, I felt a tickle in my throat that kept on long enough I thought it would erupt in a huge cough. I rubbed on a small amount of menthol. The tickle disappeared. We are both getting sleep, and sleep is the best remedy to cure the cold that causes the cough in the first place.

One small caution: menthol is painful if you get it in your eyes. Be sure to wear long sleeves and cover your wrists after applying so that if your arm is up near your face, you don’t get it in your eyes. I’ve applied it to the inside of the elbow with the same success as the wrists, but with less risk of getting the menthol into the membranes of the eyes.

This works. I can’t recommend it enough. Want to stop a cough? Put menthol on your wrists or anywhere else you see veins near the surface of your skin. It works.

Interestingly, over the summer, we spent a weekend at the coast. I’d had a bit of a niggling cough off and on. Nothing major, but irritating periodically. I did not bring any sort of menthol to the beach with us. Lying there awake with the niggling cough, I considered what else might work. I had read that toothpaste has menthol in it, and it certainly has peppermint oil, which is the original ingredient in menthol. Worn out I figured, why not? I got up, got the travel toothpaste, and smeared some on my wrists. The cough ceased. Both nights we were there it worked. I slept and the cough was never able to really take hold.

One thing to note, if your cough is caused by inflamed lungs, smoking, or something more chronic, this won’t work. This is for the cough that is caused by blood in the blood vessels of the throat. If the cough is caused by something other than blood in the blood vessels in the throat, this is not the remedy.

If you try this, let me know how it worked for you in the comments section. I’m sure others would love to hear of your experience as well.

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5 thoughts on “How to Stop Coughing

  1. Thank you so much for this article!!!! I tried it on my 17 year old daughter and it totally stopped her coughing so she could finally get some rest!!!!

  2. Wow ! I’ve been fighting this cough for days & my Dr gave me Benzonatate pills & all they do is dry up your throat & give you a headache ! I was looking for some cough drops in my dresser & found my deep heating rub & thought hmmmm I wander if this would work… So I googled it & found your article ! My wheezing stopped & my cough is calm !!! I haven’t slept good in days so now I’m going to get some sleep while I can ! Thank you !

  3. I have had a horrible cough. I JUST tried this and noticed the results as soon as I applied the toothpaste. You are amazing and the thought process was logical, but near improbable for an ordinary person to think like that. Myself, assumed to apply throat spray, cough drops, and over the shelf cough syrup, but this helped more than anything. If you are not an atheist God bless you!

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