Coughing occurs as a reflex action that clears irritants, mucus and allergens, such as pollen, smoke or dust from your airways.
A cough can be chronic if it lasts longer than one month for children and two months for adults. Chronic coughs can be discomforting, especially if coughing interferes with your night’s sleep. Repeated coughing can also be exhausting and may cause vomiting, fractured ribs and dizziness in extreme cases.
An acute (short-term) cough usually results from an upper respiratory tract infection, like the flu or a cold.
Coughing may also result from:
A chronic, persistent cough is when the coughing lasts for eight weeks or longer. This may result from:
In a few cases, persistent coughing is one symptom of a serious health issue, like heart failure or lung cancer.
While coughing isn’t always harmful, see your GP as soon as you can if you also:
You should also see your GP if your coughing has lasted more than three weeks without any improvement. Your GP will want to know how long you’ve had the cough, the severity and frequency of your coughing and other symptoms you experience. Your GP may also take a sample of mucus to check for infections.
If the GP suspects an underlying issue, they may refer you for further investigations, such as:
You may also get a referral to a consultant, like a gastroenterologist or an ear, nose and throat consultant.
Simple cough remedies can relieve an acute cough. Resting and the following will help.
If you have an underlying condition causing chronic coughing, your doctor will recommend treatment depending on your diagnosis.
This may involve the following.
Your doctor may also recommend changing a medication if they believe it is causing your cough. If coughing is linked to smoking cigarettes, the doctor will advise quitting smoking.
In most cases, coughing has no serious underlying cause, but it is best to visit a doctor to evaluate your condition and give an accurate diagnosis, especially if the coughing is chronic, persistent, or you cough up blood.