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 if you have a cough.

You should:

You could also try:

But there's limited evidence to show these work. Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect to cough medicines.

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).

A pharmacist can help if you have a cough

If you have a cough, you can ask a pharmacist about:

These will not stop your cough, but may help you cough less.

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

Non-urgent advice: 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 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.

To find out what's causing your cough, the GP might:

What happens at your appointment

Important: Important

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:

A cough is rarely a sign of something serious like lung cancer.

What causes coughs

Page last reviewed: 12 January 2021
Next review due: 12 January 2024