A cough will usually go away within 3 weeks on its own.
Treating a cough yourself
Most coughs go away on their own within 3 weeks. There’s usually no need to see a doctor.
To help with your cough you can:
- 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
- Fill the mug with boiled water
- Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey (depending on how sweet you want it)
- Drink while still warm (don’t give very hot drinks to small children)
Your pharmacist can help with a cough
You can use cough medicines like syrups and lozenges to help you cough less. However, they won’t get rid of the cough. It will get better naturally, without treatment.
Some cough medicines shouldn’t be given to children under 12. Speak with your pharmacist first.
See your 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 lymph nodes)
- you find it hard to breathe
See a GP urgently if you’re coughing up blood.
What happens at your appointment
Many things can cause a cough and 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:
- 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.
If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.