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Aug.18.2023
Cough, Adult

Cough, Adult

Coughing is a reflex that clears your throat and airways (respiratory system). It helps heal and protect your lungs. It is normal to cough from time to time. A cough that happens with other symptoms or that lasts a long time may be a sign of a condition that needs treatment. A short-term (acute) cough may only last 2–3 weeks. A long-term (chronic) cough may last 8 or more weeks.

Coughing is often caused by:
  • Diseases, such as:
    • An infection of the respiratory system.
    • Asthma or other heart or lung diseases.
    • Gastroesophageal reflux. This is when acid comes back up from the stomach.
  • Breathing in things that irritate your lungs.
  • Allergies.
  • Postnasal drip. This is when mucus runs down the back of your throat.
  • Smoking.
  • Some medicines.

Follow these instructions at home:

Medicines

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Talk with your provider before you take cough medicine (cough suppressants).

Eating and drinking

  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Drink enough fluid to keep your pee (urine) pale yellow.

Lifestyle

  • Avoid cigarette smoke.
  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco. These products include cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping devices, such as e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your provider.
  • Avoid things that make you cough. These may include perfumes, candles, cleaning products, or campfire smoke.

General instructions

A person holding a cloth over the mouth and nose while coughing.
  • Watch for any changes to your cough. Tell your provider about them.
  • Always cover your mouth when you cough.
  • If the air is dry in your bedroom or home, use a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier.
  • If your cough is worse at night, try to sleep in a semi-upright position.
  • Rest as needed.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have new symptoms, or your symptoms get worse.
  • You cough up pus.
  • You have a fever that does not go away or a cough that does not get better after 2–3 weeks.
  • You cannot control your cough with medicine, and you are losing sleep.
  • You have pain that gets worse or is not helped with medicine.
  • You lose weight for no clear reason.
  • You have night sweats.

Get help right away if:

  • You cough up blood.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • Your heart is beating very fast.

These symptoms may be an emergency. Get help right away. Call 911.
  • Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away.
  • Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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