A cough will usually clear up on its own within 3 to 4 weeks.
Could it be coronavirus?
A new, continuous cough could be coronavirus (COVID-19).
There's usually no need to see a GP.
- drink plenty of fluids
You could also try:
- paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat any pain
- hot lemon and honey (not suitable for babies under 1 year old)
- a herbal medicine called pelargonium (suitable for people aged 12 or over)
But there's limited evidence to show these work.
How to make a hot lemon and honey drink
- Squeeze half a lemon into a mug of boiled water.
- Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey.
- Drink while still warm (do not give hot drinks to small children).
Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect to cough medicines.
If you have a cough, you can ask a pharmacist about:
- cough syrup
- cough medicine (some cough medicines should not be given to children under 12)
- cough sweets
These will not stop your cough, but may help you cough less.
Decongestants and cough medicines containing codeine will not stop your cough.
To find out what's causing your cough, the GP might:
- take a sample of any mucus you might be coughing up
- order an X-ray, allergy test, or a test to see how well your lungs work
- refer you to hospital to see a specialist, but this is rare
Antibiotics are not normally prescribed for coughs. A GP will only prescribe them if you need them – for example, if you have a bacterial infection or you're at risk of complications.
Most coughs are caused by a cold or flu.
Other causes include:
- heartburn (acid reflux)
- allergies – for example, hay fever
- infections like bronchitis
- mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose
A cough is rarely a sign of something serious like lung cancer.