Doctor’s Tips to Boost Immune System for Cough

Natural Cough Syrup
Photo by Kaylee Brayne on Unsplash

When our 3-year-old just finished his antibiotic regiment for pneumonia, our doctor told us that it would probably take 10 days for him to get over his cough. Now, this is a type of cough that sounds horrible (junky cough) with a lot of phlegm that sounded very difficult to get rid of. So when it was hitting 21 days after his last dose of antibiotics and there was no sign of his cough abating, it certainly got us worried.

With this situation, we thought about asking for a second opinion from a different pediatrician. After checking the lungs, eyes and lymph nodes he told us that the lungs sounded great. But it looked like there was excessive nasal dripping that produce clogged up nose and junkie cough so he suggested trying some home remedy and using over-the-counter products first for at least a week before we try another round of different antibiotics (Oh No!).

Over the counter products and actions recommended:

  • Spray his nose a few times a day with Simply Saline. Make sure pick the plain one with just saline water and nothing else.
  • In addition of the nose spray, we can either use steam inhaler or just bring him to a bathroom and turn your bathroom into a steam room for 10-15 minutes. We opted for the latter since it’s cheaper to let him play in his bathtime for additional 10 minutes in a room full of steam.
  • Find original product from Mucinex with only Guaifenesin 100 mg as the ingredient and nothing else (all additional ingredients are not safe for children this age). Twice a day. I had no luck finding this product and it looks like Mucinex discontinued this product.
  • So the alternative was Zarbee’s product, but without guaifenesin. We got the Zarbee’s Naturals Children’s Cough Syrup* + Mucus with Dark Honey, Grape Flavor.
  • Give him elderberry syrup. When I asked specifically for a brand, he mentioned Sambucol. When I looked for it, I found out there was another brand Sambucus. I’m not sure the difference between the two but it looks like many people claimed Sambucol is the original and they were sworn by it. I went with that and chose the one with original formula with glucose syrup, purified water, citric acid, and potassium sorbate (preservative).
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Enough sleep.
  • The Doctor also asked us what we had been given him. When we told him about oral probiotic, he told us to continue with it. In the same way, we told him about giving him turmeric tea and he said it was fine.

What We Did

So after getting all the above products, we immediately put him under the regiment with the hope that we don’t need to give him another round of antibiotics, which could negatively impact his liver.

The good thing about home remedy is that we’re a bit flexible with the dosage and scheduling. So the Dr’s order is more like a guide instead of restricted instructions in the case of antibiotic use.

So here’s what we did:

  • Give Sambucol twice a day, in the morning and after/during dinner time.
  • His coughing episode typically occurs the most during or after breakfast, so we give Zarbee’s cough syrup during that time to help him expel the sticky phlegm. In the beginning, we also give that to him before bedtime but we reduced it to once a day after a week. But after the second week it was more of on a needed basis.
  • Spray his nose 3-4 times a day with Simply Saline. Most important for us is the first thing in the morning and the one before bedtime.
  • Steam him once or twice a day (depends on our time) for 10 minutes.
  • Give oral probiotic before bedtime every night.
  • Give ginger turmeric tea in the afternoon or evening every other day. You can follow the recipe here, but only do this if your child can tolerate the taste of ginger and black pepper (hot), feel free to reduce the ginger and black pepper dosage. The taste is quite strong if you’re not used to it.
  • We also did accompany this with daily meal close to the Paleo diet we have tried (although not as restrictive) such as increasing the fresh fruits and vegetables and reduce the fried or junk food. And definitely reduce the intake of sugary food and beverages except from fresh fruits.


There was certainly no instant result with respiratory illness. But I think we started seeing improvement with the coughing after 5 days. There was nothing dramatic in the change at first. The frequency was decreasing, but the sound was still very junkie after a few days.

I think it took another 2 weeks before we noticed another reduction to the coughing and the thickness of the mucus. It used to take 4-5 episodes of coughing before the mucus was cleared from his throat and after week three, it took just one episode and we could hear the mucus was very thin.

Then it was another week before his coughing was totally cleared and only occasionally that he needed to clear his throat. So it was 8 weeks after the last dose of antibiotic before the coughing was completely gone.


I’m sure though that without the home remedy that we did during that 8 weeks, his progress would have been much slower, if there was any improvement at all.

All these suggestions certainly helped to build his own immune system to fight with the germs while the saline spray and steam clean our child’s nose and minimizing the nasal drips especially at night.

Of all the over the counter products we tried, I felt that Zarbee’s cough syrup is the one we could go without. The reason I can say this is because we did not use Zarbee’s cough syrup on the first two weeks because I was still looking for Mucinex to no avail, but yet we already saw improvement with everything else that we did. And Zarbee’s product is the first one we stop as soon as the cough frequency was reduced. But I won’t discount that the product had helped to thin the mucus as well. It’s just that I felt it was not as critical to use it.

The black elderberry syrup seemed to make a dramatic improvement for his progress along with the nose cleaning regiment plus ginger turmeric tea. There is something about the benefits of elderberry syrup for influenza although it needs to be confirmed in a larger study.1 But we will definitely stock up on Sambucol during the flu and cold seasons.


Please be warned that turmeric will stain everything! Once it sets into fabric, it’s almost impossible to get rid of. That’s why it’s used as a dye. Just make sure you’re wearing any old clothes that you don’t care too much if it was stained.

As always, this is not a medical advise so do not use this as a substitute for a treatment for your child. As each child is different, always consult with your doctor first before trying any of the above to avoid potential complications. Even for us, we had to check with our doctor first before trying it on our child.


1 Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.

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