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Coughs: Not All Are Created Equal

“My dear doctor, I am surprised to hear you say that I am coughing very badly, as I have been practicing all night.” John Philpot Curran

You call your homeopath saying, “Our child has a cough and the constant hacking is driving us all crazy. She is coughing all the time. I have tried (insert your favorite home remedy, combination homeopathic cough product, over-the-counter cough suppressant) and nothing is helping.”

And your homeopath asks you to,

‘Describe the cough.’

“It’s a cough.”

“What is the cough like?”


“Besides annoying, how would you describe the cough?”

“I don’t know. Can you ask me some questions?”

So now both you and your child are annoyed. You because of all the requests for a description of the cough and for a description of your child with the cough and your child is annoyed at being disturbed while you keep looking at them, waiting for them to cough again so that you can describe the cough to your homeopath.

Consulting with a homeopath can be like that!

There is a reason and a purpose for the descriptions and sometimes yes, your homeopath asking questions will help despite the process being annoying. Also…in this technological age, you can videotape or record the cough, which is can be very helpful for the homeopath. Sometimes I stay on the phone call or Skype visit until I actually hear the cough and then hear the child with the cough, which can lead to the correct remedy.

So why ask all the questions? Winnie the Pooh says it best:

The Dry Cough

A dry cough is a dry cough, right? Well…in the world of homeopathy a dry cough can have many different modalities that make your child’s dry cough just a little different than someone else’s dry cough. Your child’s dry cough and the modalities are the things that make them, them. Pooh knows what he is talking about!

What is a modality?

  • A characteristic that describes a cough or is descriptive of the person with a cough. e.g. a dry cough in a dry, humorless person
  • A condition that makes the ill person or a particular symptom better or worse. e.g. a draft makes the person worse over all and makes the cough worse.
  • A modality can be the time of day, temperature, position, perspiration, eating, weather, emotion or a concomitant – something that is a symptom at the same time as the cough e.g. a nosebleed with the cough.

Where a conventional medical doctor might prescribe the same cough medicine for every dry cough e.g. an antitussive to suppress the cough (drugs like dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine or levomenthol), a homeopath has access to many dry cough remedies depending on the modalities that you are asked to describe.

For example:

A dry cough at night waking from sleep – possibility of Pulsatilla, Silica or Sulphur.

If you have a weepy, clingy child who is overheated and wants the coolest part of the room or a window open, you might need to use Pulsatilla. They might have little or no thirst or refuse a drink of water when you offer it thinking it might at least stop the annoying cough! They might also need to sit up to cough.

If the cough is worse from crying, eating or drinking hastily, taking cold drinks and talking; better by taking warm fluids and being covered up warmly, you can think of Silica.

A child needing Sulphur might have red lips, red cheeks, hold their head when coughing, have a dry cough at night and a loose cough during the day or have a cough that ends in a sneeze.

How about a dry cough and lying on the back makes the cough worse? Three remedies worth mentioning are Nux vomica, Phosphorous and once again, Silica.

The Nux vomica cough is constant, dry, exhausting with fever or when eating. Your homeopath might even ask or maybe you have observed that the cough is worse on going from open air into a warm room and better by taking warm drinks. Cough from anger…emotions can be important in any complaint.

The Phosphorous cough can be incessant, a racking cough day and night, with retching, which exhausts; from tickling in the larynx and trachea; worse from laughing, reading aloud or talking and when going to sleep.

A Rattly Loose Cough

Many parents will recognize this cough. You just WISH your kid could actually cough up something and then you would feel so much better! Yes…you would feel better and maybe your child too. All you can think of is that loose goopy stuff lurking in the throat creating a moist juicy environment for a secondary bacterial infection.

Just before Christmas a parent phoned about her child who had just this kind of cough. She is familiar with homeopathy so understood the endless requests for descriptions as I looked for something characteristic, a modality that would mean the correct remedy. Into minute 45 I heard the little one say to her mom, “Tell the elf to quit looking at me.” She was in tears but also angry that the elf was looking at her. Aha! This was the key symptom for me.

The mental/emotional symptom in the world of homeopathy is Anger when looked at. There are ten remedies listed but given her craving for cold drinks, cucumbers, apples, pickles, loose rattly cough and aversion to being looked at, the remedy needed was Antimonium tart.

A Remedy Differential

In the book Clinical Observations of Children’s Remedies by Farokh Master there is a very helpful comparison of Antimonium tart and Ipecacuana in allergic and infectious upper and lower respiratory tract disorders.

As an example, when your child’s behavior is driving you bonkers, to a homeopath there is a difference between the behavior of a child needing Antimonium tart and a child needing Ipecacuana.

Antimonium tart:

  • Anger in children
  • Desires to be carried in erect position
  • Peevish, whining, unwilling to be looked at or touched
  • Wants to be left alone


  • Capricious
  • Hard to please

Can you see how the behaviors could look similar? So your homeopath will ask you more questions. If they are looking at either of these remedies, they might ask about what your child is craving to eat/drink to determine a final choice. Or…they might have you look at your child’s tongue!

In Antimonium tart the tongue will have a thick white coating. In Ipecacuana, the tongue will be clean, red, pointed, with salivation.

Call Your Homeopath

Remember, you can always call your homeopath for an acute consult if the remedies you have given for a dry or loose cough have had little or no effect.

Here is a Acute Complaints Handout that might be helpful for you…prepare you for all those annoying questions your homeopath might ask! Remember, you are learning too so the handout is part of you getting better at home prescribing.

Yours in health and healing,





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