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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

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

Information:

If you have a high temperature or a new, continuous cough, it could be coronavirus.

Stay at home and use the 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do.

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.

Information:

Do not go to a pharmacy if you have a high temperature or a new, continuous cough, it could be coronavirus. Ask someone to go for you if you can.

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

Important

Antibiotics are not normally prescribed for coughs.

Your GP will only prescribe them if you need them – for example, if you have a bacterial infection or you're at risk of complications.

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.


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