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Is it good to drink cold water when coughing?

Coughing is one of the most common symptoms when someone has an illness affecting the respiratory tract, such as a cold, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, or COVID-19. It’s the body’s way of trying to expel mucus and irritants from the airways. While coughing is unpleasant and disruptive, it is part of the healing process. However, many people look for ways to soothe an irritating cough so they can rest. One remedy that is often recommended is drinking cold water. But is this really an effective way to quiet a cough? Let’s take a closer look.

What causes coughing?

Coughing occurs when the nerves in your throat, airways, or lungs get irritated. The major triggers are:

  • Infections: Bacterial and viral illnesses like colds, flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia can cause mucus buildup and inflammation in the respiratory tract. The body tries to expel this through coughing.
  • Postnasal drip: Excess mucus dripping down the back of the throat from the sinuses triggers coughing.
  • Asthma: The airways become swollen and narrowed, producing excess mucus that leads to coughing.
  • COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease causes airflow blockage and mucus production.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoke causes irritation and inflammation.
  • Environmental irritants: Things like pollution, dust, and strong fumes can initiate coughing.
  • Medications: ACE inhibitors used for high blood pressure can cause a dry, persistent cough for some people.

When nerve endings get stimulated by any of these factors, they send signals to the brain which provokes an involuntary cough. This is the body’s attempt to protect the respiratory system by ejecting whatever is causing the irritation.

How might drinking cold water help a cough?

Drinking cold water could potentially help suppress a cough through several mechanisms:

  • Soothes the throat: The cold temperature can temporarily numb nerve endings in the throat, decreasing their sensitivity so they are less apt to provoke coughing.
  • Thins mucus: Cold liquids can make thick mucus in the throat thinner and easier to clear.
  • Hydrates: Water keeps mucus membranes moist and lubricated.
  • Reduces inflammation: The cold may help constrict blood vessels and decrease inflammation that triggers coughing.
  • Distraction: Having something to swallow can momentarily override the body’s urge to cough.

Therefore, taking frequent sips of cold water could theoretically calm an overactive cough reflex by cooling, hydrating, and distracting the throat and airways.

What does the research say?

There have not been extensive studies looking specifically at the effect of drinking cold water on coughing. However, some small studies provide insight:

  • A 2006 study had 31 children with upper respiratory infections drink either cold water, room temperature water, or hot water after coughing. Drinking cold water reduced the frequency of coughing compared to the other temperatures.
  • A study from 2017 had kids with acute coughs drink cold water, honey water, or take no intervention. Cold water was most effective at decreasing cough frequency and intensity.
  • A 2015 study found that holding cold water, ice, or ice packs against the back of the throat provided short-term relief for sore throat and cough in laryngitis patients.

While limited, these studies suggest cold water may have a modest but measurable antitussive (cough-suppressing) effect in the short term. More research is needed comparing cold water to cough medications and warm fluids. But the current evidence indicates it likely provides some temporary soothing relief.

Are there any downsides to drinking cold water for coughs?

For most people, drinking cold water will not cause any harm and may bring temporary cough relief. But there are a few potential disadvantages to consider:

  • May trigger coughing fits or choking: Taking large gulps of cold water could overwhelm the throat and cause coughing spasms for some.
  • Can constrict airways: Cold liquids may provoke bronchospasm in asthmatics.
  • Masks more serious conditions: Easing cough symptoms with cold water could delay getting medical help for severe illness.
  • Upsets stomach: Large volumes of cold water may give some people cramps, nausea, or diarrhea.
  • Aggravates tooth sensitivity: The cold temperature can increase nerve pain in teeth.
  • Not as effective for wetter coughs: Cold water works best for dry, irritated coughs. It may be less helpful for coughs producing copious mucus.

So people with asthma, stomach sensitivities, or severe infections should use caution with cold water. Otherwise it is likely safe in moderation for most adults and children.

Tips for using cold water to help coughs

Here are some tips on using cold water to get the most antitussive benefit:

  • Drink small sips frequently instead of large guzzles to keep the throat cool and moist.
  • Add ice to make water even colder. Sucking on small ice chips can prolong the numbing effect.
  • Try putting water in the refrigerator rather than using water right from the tap for maximum chilling.
  • Drink through a straw placed far back on the tongue to direct cold right over the cough reflex nerves.
  • Pair cold water with cough drops: The cold can numb while menthol or honey in the lozenge coats and soothes.
  • Use alongside cough medicine for extra relief. But avoid sedating antihistamine formulas that dry out secretions.
  • Stop drinking cold water if it seems to trigger choking or coughing fits.

Maximizing the coldness and directing it over the throat provides optimal symptom relief for many cough sufferers.

How does cold water compare to other home remedies?

Drinking cold water is just one of many home remedies used to curb coughing. How does it compare to some other commonly used ones?

Remedy How it works Effectiveness
Honey Coats and soothes irritated throat Effective, studied more than cold water
Tea Fluid, warmth, and honey soothe throat May help, not well studied for coughs
Soup broth Fluid and saltwater soothe throat Insufficient evidence, likely minimal effect
Hard candy Increases saliva to coat throat May provide temporary relief
Steam Loosens mucus and soothes airways Clinical evidence lacking but plausibly helpful

Honey has the most research support for taming coughs. But cold water can be used when honey is unavailable or for dietary restrictions. Combining the soothing properties of honey or tea with cold temperature might offer more antitussive advantages.

When to see a doctor about a cough

While home remedies like cold water may temporarily quiet coughs, they should not be used to mask coughs that could indicate a serious health problem. See a doctor if any of the following apply:

  • Cough lasts more than 3 weeks in adults or 4 weeks in children
  • Cough produces green, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • Cough is accompanied by difficulty breathing
  • Cough coincides with chest pain, rapid heart rate, or fever
  • Severe, dry cough develops suddenly after eating
  • Cough causes lightheadedness, nausea, or unintentional weight loss

Chronic coughs, coughs with severe or unusual symptoms, or coughs in high risk people should be evaluated by a physician. Self-treating with home remedies may delay diagnosis and proper treatment.


Drinking cold water is unlikely to completely cure a cough. But it offers a simple, practical option for temporary relief from coughing by numbing and cooling irritated throat tissues. Research to date indicates cold water can reduce cough frequency and intensity for short periods. It has the advantages of being inexpensive, safe for most, and readily available. Cold water works best for soothing dry, non-productive coughs associated with throat irritation. It should not replace medical treatment for chronic or severe coughs. But sipping cold beverages may provide a little respite from coughing fits when used alongside other remedies and medications. So next time cough symptoms flare up, fill a glass with ice water and see if cold relief is only a sip away.