Often coughs are caused by viral infections like a cold or flu that will get better on their own. Viruses are not affected by antibiotics. Other less common causes may need further treatment, as recommended by a healthcare professional.

What are the symptoms?

Most coughs will be alongside other symptoms, you might have:
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • A feeling of liquid running down the back of your throat (postnasal drip)
  • Frequent throat clearing and sore throat
  • Hoarseness

How long could it last?

Most adults recover from a cough within 21 days. If symptoms last longer than they normally would, or you are worried about a young child or elderly relative, speak to your local pharmacist for advice.

When should I visit my GP practice?

In most cases you do not need to see a GP with a cough and it will clear on it’s own but you should book an appointment if:
  • you’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks (persistent cough)
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Heartburn or a sour taste in your mout
  • your cough is very bad or quickly gets worse
  • 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.

More information can be found here: NHS – Cough

Do I need antibiotics?

Antibiotics are not normally prescribed for coughs as they usually will not relieve your symptoms or speed up recovery. A healthcare professional will only prescribe them if they feel you need them.

What treatment do I need?

Medicines will not stop your cough but they can help you to cough less. 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
You can also try:
  • paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat any pain caused by your cough
  • hot lemon and honey (not suitable for babies under 1 year old) can have a similar effect to cough medicine

If you are ever worried that your symptoms might be something more severe then you can visit or call NHS 111.

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