How do you calm a cough? We’ve heard about numerous home remedies for this common problem. One reader surprised us recently with a way to stop a stubborn cough that we had never encountered before.

Traveler’s Remedy for a Stubborn Cough:

Q. I traveled once with a dry cough that, when triggered, wouldn’t quit. A lady sitting next to me on the plane pulled out a clove of garlic from her purse and told me to break the skin with my thumbnail, then inhale the garlic aroma.

It was amazing to feel the cough subside within minutes. I use this treatment now and share it with others all the time.

Why Would Garlic Calm a Cough?

A. What a fascinating story! Garlic contains pungent compounds, allicin and diallyl disulfide, that activate TRPA1 channels (Bautista et al, PNAS, Aug. 23, 2005).  These transient receptor potential (TRP) channels on nerve cells can trigger a cough (Grace and Belvisi, Pulmonary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, June, 2011). Other foods that trigger TRPA1 channels include cinnamon, mustard oil and wasabi (Grace et al, British Journal of Pharmacology, May 2014).

When they are overwhelmed, these TRP channels may also generate feedback that would calm a cough.  This might explain why your unusual home remedy works so well for a stubborn cough.

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  1. Jeane
    North Carolina

    Love all this information. It is clear and to the point. Also love tour newspaper articles.

  2. Mary
    Ashland, OR

    The person who recommended the garlic treatment for a cough has been one of my ‘medical consultants’ since she became a nurse many years ago. She is thoughtful, knowledgeable and cautious in recommending remedies unless she has tried the herself. If SHE says its okay, I SAY its okay! (She is also my older sister and really can be trusted!)

  3. Shutterbugg

    I have found the recent discussions of TRPA1 channels fascinating. I have thought for several years about another situation that may also be affected by this mechanism. Growing up in the South we always included sour pickles on our plates when eating fish, and knew to take a bite of the pickle immediately if we felt a bone lodge in the throat. This is very effective, without delay, and rarely was a second bite required. The effect seemed too quick to be due to softening of the bone by the acidity, and I wondered if it stimulated a mechanical action of the throat tissues to perhaps contract and expel the end of the bone from the tissue.

  4. Joe
    Phoenix, az

    I regularly use garlic pills to control my smoker’s cough and alleviate respiratory issues after working in dusty environments.

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