A cough will usually clear up on its own within 3 to 4 weeks.
There's usually no need to see a GP if you have a cough.
- drink plenty of fluids
- try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities
You could also try:
- paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat any pain
- hot lemon and honey (not suitable for babies under 1 year old)
- a herbal medicine called pelargonium (suitable for people aged 12 or over)
But there's limited evidence to show these work. Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect to cough medicines.
If you have a cough, 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 may help you cough less.
Decongestants and cough medicines containing codeine will not stop your cough.
To find out what's causing your cough, the 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 rare
Most coughs are caused by a cold or flu.
Other causes include:
- 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 rarely a sign of something serious like lung cancer.