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What Food and Drinks Aggravate Coughs?

These are just some of the food and drinks that are commonly believed to aggravate coughs.

What foods aggravate coughs
Image Source: Pinterest

“Don’t eat oranges.”

“Don’t eat grapes.”

“In fact, don’t eat any citrus fruits.”

“Can’t eat sugary foods.”

“Don’t take dairy.”

“Don’t take cold foods.”

Since G1 developed his cough a couple of days ago, I’ve been bombarded with loads of well-meaning advice about food and drinks that he should not be taking as they are believed to aggravate coughing. While I’m open to listening to advice, it gets a little ridiculous when it starts to severely limit what I can feed him. At a time when his body requires nutrients for healing, I question the wisdom of cutting out nutrient-rich foods. This is especially when most of the foods that are “off-limits” happen to be the ones that G1 actually enjoys eating.

To add to the problem, G1 appears to have had some problems with constipation lately.  Twice I have wiped his anus and seen a spot of blood on the tissue.  Since discovering his difficulties pooping, I started offering him a small rice bowl full of grapes a day and it tremendously improved his bowel movements.  The fact that G1 loves eating grapes also makes the process a lot easier for everyone.

Naturally, when I was advised not to offer him grapes because of his cough, I was in a bit of a dilemma.  Do I let him get constipated or do I aggravate his cough?

I finally decided to do a background check to understand the extent of the truth behind these beliefs and to research the scientific evidence, if there is any, to determine whether these are well-documented facts or simply old-wives tales.  Based on my own understanding and what I’ve found, this is my conclusion:

Citrus Fruits

First up, I have to question the warnings against citrus fruits and sugar because honey lemon seems to be a commonly offered drink to soothe aggravated throats.  Just Google “honey lemon cough” and you will find a whole list of sites with honey lemon cough remedies.

Although I didn’t find any information on exactly how lemon helps coughs, MayoClinic makes reference to a study that found honey to be as effective a cough suppressant as dextromethorphan.  So I guess the take home message is that honey is a great cough remedy for children unless your child is under 1 year old (in which case, honey should be avoided because of the risk of developing infant botulism).


I couldn’t find any evidence to support the fact that oranges are bad for coughs. As for the general beliefs – it seems that the jury is out on this one.  Some sites recommended avoiding oranges when you have a cough and others actually recommend orange juice as a natural “cough remedy”:

“In the case of a severe cough, the patient should fast on orange juice and water till the severity is decreased. The process is to take the juice of an orange diluted in a cup of warm water, every two hours from morning till night.”

The closest I could find on oranges and coughing was a study on “the effect of fresh orange juice on bronchial hyperactivity in asthmatic subjects“.  The study revealed that there was no significant difference on the ingestion or avoidance of fresh orange juice bronchial hyperactivity.  In fact, Dr Greene cites a study on asthmatic children that found that oranges (or rather foods that are rich in vitamin C) helped to reduce chronic cough and nighttime cough in asthmatic children.


It appears that grapes is a commonly recommended “cough remedy”:

“Grapes are one of the most effective home remedies for the treatment of a cough. Grapes tone up the lungs and act as an expectorant, relieving a simple cold and cough in a couple of days. A cup of grape juice mixed with a teaspoon of honey is advised for cough relief.”

Perhaps I didn’t dig deep enough but I didn’t find anything that suggested that grapes aggravated coughing.


I think the underlying message here lies in the type of sugar.  Most of the recommendations refer to the avoidance of refined and processed foods with sugar and other sweetened foods.  The confusion that arises here is whether you should also be avoiding fruits that are too “sweet”. That being the case, some varieties of grapes would fall into this category.

Then again, I have also seen sites that suggest cough remedies involving the use of sugar.  So should you avoid sugar when you have a cough?  The jury’s still out on this one…


It has been said that dairy foods thicken the mucous which presumably makes the cough worse.  Well, here’s what the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology has to say about that:

“Some people complain that when they have dairy products, their throat feels coated and mucus is thicker and harder to swallow. Recent research has shown that these feelings are due to the texture of the fluid, occur with similar liquids of the same “thickness” and are not due to increased production of mucus. When they do occur, symptoms are generally short-lived.”


“When patients complain of cough after having cold milk, it is usually due to breathing in cool air as they drink, and usually disappears if they warm the milk first.”

Cold Food and Drinks

There wasn’t any factual information concluding that cold food and drinks worsen a cough – not that I could find. However, there are a lot of recommendations that we should avoid cold food and drinks when coughing.


It seems that the only food and drinks that is advisable for you to stay away from when coughing are cold food and drinks.  Although I couldn’t find any scientific backing for this piece of information, the general consensus is that cold food and drinks worsen a cough.  As for the other beliefs, they were either debunked as myths or the information I found was inconsistent.  That leads me to conclude that most of these food and drinks are okay for consumption even if one is suffering from a cough.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

18 thoughts on “What Food and Drinks Aggravate Coughs?

  1. We had a sleepless night because of my daughter’s cough. So this morning I did a quick google on the food that aggravate cough. Thanks for doing a research on this area.



  2. Have you actually search on Traditional Chinese Medicine? Rather than belief in all these studies, usually TCM is much more accurate when it comes to diet for an illness. Those advice given to you are actually more accurate than you may think. Just because no western study has ever proven those points, the chinese has had millenia to prove that citrus fruits aggravate cough. So even though they are not endorsed by the idiotic westerners, they can be much more helpful.


  3. I would recommend citrus fruit during any sickness. Anyone who says to avoid citrus without any prior knowledge is saying an absurd thing, because the vitamin C can be excellent for helping to fight off infection (including in your throat)!


  4. i think cold drinks causes our blood vessels or even our alveoli contrict that is why we give precautionary measures not to drink cold when we have cough .cold makes constriction while hot dilates…i guess


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  6. Hi, thank you for the effort you have put in this article. I just wanted to share my little toddler’s experience so no one else would make the same mistake.

    My little boy had just recovered from cough and he ate a few pieces of Mandarin oranges because I thought it was good for him (vitamin C and all). Scientific or not, that was a MISTAKE. He coughed and coughed for hours not long after that. It was only the next day that he was feeling better (after a lot of water, warm soup, etc). I don’t need science to tell me that MANDARIN ORANGES should be AVOIDED when you are coughing. I wish I didn’t learn it this way but it happened. I can’t say the same is true for all oranges but if you have little kids, please don’t take that chance. There are plenty of other good food to feed them.


    1. Hi New Mom,

      Thanks. This article was written a long time ago and I’m afraid I have yet to update it. I have found the same problem with Mandarin oranges and chicken. Not so much with the regular oranges – at least not that we have observed – but, nevertheless we now avoid it whenever the boys are coughing anyway.


  7. I was surprised to find that RAISINS – just chewing them (some cook them into a syrup) – did calm and perhaps prevented a potentially horrible dry cough from fully developing. They calm my cough immediately, and the effect seems to last many hours (right now, eight hours and counting). If the cough appears again, repeat.


  8. i experienced dry cough AND I DO NOT RECOMMEND DRINKING FLUIDS WITH CITRUS. in my second week of dry cough(i was about to get better), i drank warm water with lemon and some honey and i had the worst night 😦


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