Coughs are a very common symptom and are usually nothing to worry about. They are often a sign of infection either in the upper airways or in more serious cases, the lower airways.

With an infection affecting the upper airways (upper respiratory tract infection), other symptoms may go alongside the cough such as a runny nose and sneezing. Generally you won’t have a fever and will feel reasonably well in yourself.

In these cases there is usually no need to see your GP if you or your child have a mild cough for a week or two.


However, you should seek medical advice if:

  • You are feeling very unwell with your cough and have headaches, fevers and aching muscles
  • You've had a cough for more than three weeks
  • Your cough is particularly severe or is getting worse
  • You have an underlying lung condition such as asthma or COPD
  • You cough up blood or experience shortness of breath, breathing difficulties or chest pain
  • You have any other worrying symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss, a persistent change in your voice, or lumps or swellings in your neck.

These symptoms may be suggestive of an infection involving the lower airways (lower respiratory tract infection) or a different underlying cause.

Treatment isn't always necessary for mild, short-term coughs because it's likely to be a viral infectionthat will get better on its own within a few weeks and antibiotics will not be helpful.

You can look after yourself at home by resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

There are cough medicines that are available over the counter but there is little evidence to suggest they are helpful.


More Information

For more information on coughs, visit the NHS choices website by clicking the link below:


Content adapted from NHS Choices