Cough

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

How you can treat a cough yourself

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.

How to make a hot lemon and honey drink 
  1. Squeeze half a lemon into a mug of boiled water.
  2. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey.
  3. Drink while still warm (do not give hot drinks to small children).

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.

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.

[Last reviewed 2017-12-18]
NHS Website