Most coughs go away on their own, and there’s usually no need to see a GP.
Rest, drinking plenty of fluids and drinking hot lemon and honey are doctors’ usually recommendations to get better.
A pharmacist can also suggest treatments to help you cough less, like cough syrups and lozenges.
But what does it mean if your cough is persistent and lasts longer than three weeks?
According to NHS Inform, a persistent cough may be caused by:
- A long-term respiratory tract infection, such as chronic bronchitis
- Asthma – this also usually causes other symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath
- An allergy
- Smoking – a smoker’s cough can also be a symptom of COPD
- Bronchiectasis – where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widenedPostnasal drip – mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose, caused by a condition such as rhinitis or sinusitis
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – where the throat becomes irritated by leaking stomach acid
- A prescribed medicine, such as an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor (ACE inhibitor), which is used to treat high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
The health body’s Choices website says a cough is very rarely a sign of something serious like lung cancer.
But it does list a cough that doesn’t go away after two or three weeks, a long-sanding cough that gets worst, persistent chest infections, coughing up blood and an ache or pain when breathing or coughing as symptoms of lung cancer.
If you are concerned about your cough, the NHS lists the following circumstances for when you should see your GP:
- You’ve had a cough for more than three weeks (persistent cough)
- Your cough is very bad or quickly gets worse, for example – you have a hacking cough or can’t stop coughing
- You have chest pain
- You’re losing weight for no reason
- The side of your neck feels swollen and painful (swollen glands)
- You find it hard to breathe
- You have a weakened immune system, for example because of chemotherapy or diabetes
If you’re coughing up blood you should see your GP urgently.
If your cough isn’t persistent and is just the symptom of a cold or flu, Dr Andrew Thornber, chief medical officer at the Now Healthcare Group, offers the best cures.
When it comes to a chesty cough he said: “Hot water and honey is usually as good a remedy as most over the counter cough medicines.”
If you’ve got a mucus cough, Dr Thornber said: “A good tip is to drink lots of water to loosen the mucus, which makes it easier to cough up.
“Also, use a humidifier or inhale steam from a bowl to help clear the chest.
“Painkillers can also bring down a fever and ease any associated headaches.”
But what about a dry cough?