Learn more about coughs: introduction
A cough will usually go away within 3 weeks on its own.
How you can treat a cough yourself
Most coughs go away on their own within 3 weeks. There's usually no need to see a GP.
- drink plenty of fluids
- drink hot lemon with honey (not suitable for babies)
Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect as cough medicines.
How to make hot lemon with honey at home
- Squeeze half a lemon into a mug of boiled water.
- Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey.
- Drink while still warm (don't give hot drinks to small children).
A pharmacist can help with a cough
Speak to your pharmacist if you have a cough. They can give you advice or suggest treatments to help you cough less, like cough syrups and lozenges. These won’t get rid of the cough.
Some cough medicines shouldn’t be given to children under 12.
See a GP if:
- you've had a cough for more than 3 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
See a GP urgently if you're coughing up blood.
What happens at your appointment
To find out what's causing your cough your GP might:
- take a sample of any mucus you might be coughing up
- order an X-ray, allergy test, or test to see how well your lungs work
- refer you to hospital to see a specialist, but this is very rare
What causes coughs
Most coughs are caused by 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 very rarely a sign of something serious like lung cancer.