How you can treat a cough yourself

A cough will usually clear up on its own within 3 to 4 weeks

There's usually no need to see a GP.

You should:

  •  rest
  •  drink plenty of fluids

You could also try:

  •  hot lemon and honey (not suitable for babies under 1 year old)
  •  a herbal medicine called pelargonium (suitable for people aged 12 or over)

There's limited evidence to show these work.

Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect to cough medicines.



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 will help you cough less.

Decongestants and cough medicines containing codeine will not stop your cough.



See a GP if:

  •  you have had a cough for more than 3 weeks (persistent cough; see video below)
  •  your cough is very bad or quickly gets worse – for example, you have a hacking cough or cannot stop coughing
  •  you feel very unwell
  •  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 a 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 a cold or flu.

Other causes include:

  •  smoking
  •  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.