Cough

Prevent the spread of COVID-19

Cough can be a symptom of COVID-19.

Get advice about symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do

Coughing is part of your natural immune defence system. It is better to cough up phlegm. Otherwise the phlegm may lodge lower in the lungs where it can cause serious infections like pneumonia. 

A cough will usually go away on its own within 3 weeks.

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:

  • your cough lasts more than 3 weeks
  • you cough up blood

Symptoms and causes of cough

Most coughs are caused by the common cold, flu or bronchitis. Coughs often come with symptoms like runny nose, fever, sore throat, earache and general aches and pains.

Smoking can cause you to have a cough. Other causes include heartburn, allergies like hay fever and mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose 

If you have asthma, your cough may be caused by dust, pollens, grasses, cold air or exercise.

Treatment

If your cough is a result of a cold or flu, you do not need to see your GP. Antibiotics will not help a cold or flu.

There is no quick way to get rid of a cough. It will usually clear up after your immune system has defeated the bug that is causing it. You should rest and drink plenty of fluids.

You can ease a tickly or chesty cough is with any of the common over-the-counter remedies. Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect as cough medicines.

Hot drinks and some medicines are not suitable for babies and children. Ask your pharmacist for advice on treatment for children.

People with asthma

If you have asthma, you may be using inhalers and tablets to control your asthma. When your symptoms flare up, follow your GP's advice.

This will vary depending on the pattern and severity of your asthma. It will usually mean taking your reliever inhaler 4 to 5 times a day. You may have to increase your preventer inhaler while you have the cough.

Smokers

Smokers usually get 2 types of cough. It can be a cough caused by irritation or damage to the lungs due to smoking. It could also be one caused by colds, flu or bronchitis.

A cough lasting more than 3 weeks or coughing up blood can be a sign of lung cancer.

Think about quitting smoking. The HSE gives free support to smokers who are thinking of quitting. This support is available on the phone, online or in person.

Visit www.quit.ie or Freefone our QUIT team on 1800 201 203.

Urgent advice: Contact your GP if you:

  • find it hard to breathe
  • have a hacking cough or can't stop coughing and it's getting worse
  • have a weakened immune system, for example because of chemotherapy or diabetes
  • are losing weight for no reason
  • have chest pain
  • have asthma or a chronic lung condition
  • have had a cough for more than 3 weeks (persistent cough)

At your GP appointment

To find out what's causing your cough your GP will ask you questions about your symptoms and examine you.

They may also:

  • take a sample of any mucus you might be coughing up
  • order an x-ray or test to see how well your lungs are working
  • refer you to hospital to see a specialist, but this is rare

Going back to work or school

Do not go to work or send your child to school or creche with an infection. You can go back to work, school or creche when your cough has been gone for 48 hours.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 20 December 2020
Next review due: 20 December 2024