Coughing is a common complaint and can affect anyone. However, women are more likely to develop a persistent cough as their cough reflexes are more sensitive than men’s.
Coughing is rarely a symptom of a serious health condition and will usually clear up within three weeks. Coughing can usually be relieved with simple cough remedies or medical treatment for any underlying condition.
In most cases, a short-term (acute) cough is caused by an infection of the upper respiratory tract, such as a cold or flu.
Coughing can also be caused by:
A chronic, persistent cough is coughing that lasts for eight weeks or longer. This can be caused by:
Very occasionally, persistent coughing is a symptom of a serious health condition, such as lung cancer or heart failure.
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Although coughing is usually harmless, see your GP as soon as possible if you’re also:
Otherwise, you should see your GP if you’ve been coughing for over three weeks and there’s no sign of improvement. Your GP will ask you about the duration, frequency and severity of your coughing and any other symptoms you’ve noticed. They may take a sample of mucus to test for infections.
If they suspect an underlying cause, your GP may refer you for investigations, such as:
Your GP may refer you to a consultant for assessment, such as an ear, nose and throat consultant or a gastroenterologist.
You can relieve an acute cough with simple cough remedies. As well as resting as much as possible, you should:
If an underlying condition is responsible for your chronic coughing, the treatment your doctor recommends will depend on your diagnosis.
This may involve taking medications for your condition, such as:
Your doctor may also recommend changing medication if they believe that’s causing your cough. If your coughing is linked to smoking cigarettes, your doctor will be able to suggest ways you can stop.