A cough is usually a symptom caused by a viral respiratory tract infection. A cough in connection with a cold may be caused by acute bronchitis. Bronchitis often comes with a blocked nose, sore throat and husky voice.
The cough is usually dry and non-productive. Over time more mucus is produced. Acute bronchitis is usually resolved in a couple of weeks once your cold has healed. Cough medicines do not speed up healing, but they may add to your comfort and help you sleep. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections.
For a persistent cough (lasting more than 8 weeks) there may be many reasons. The underlying cause may be a sinus infection, asthma, reflux disease, chronic bronchitis, smoking, COPD, irritation by chemicals or drugs, an organic cause or even a habit.
Those with a persistent chesty cough may benefit from steam inhalation and drinking plenty of liquids to keep the mucous membranes moist. If you cough heavily, especially when lying down, raising the head of your bed may help. Cough medicines do not speed up healing, but they may add to your comfort and help you sleep. Avoiding additional irritants (e.g. smoking, cold weather) will help.
When should you seek medical advice?
You should seek medical advice if
- you have unusual shortness of breath, chest pain, a high temperature and deterioration of general health
- you cough up blood
- your cough has already been better, but the symptoms suddenly become worse with a high temperature
- your cough is, or your think may be caused by, a foreign body in the respiratory tract.
If you have been in contact with a person who has been ill with tuberculosis in the past few months, you should see a doctor even if your cough has only lasted for a short time.
This Self-care instruction has been produced in collaboration with Duodecim Terveyskirjasto