How you can treat a cough yourself
There's usually no need to see a GP.
- drink plenty of fluids
You could also try:
- hot lemon and honey (not suitable for babies under 1 year old)
- a herbal medicine called pelargonium (suitable for people aged 12 or over)
There's limited evidence to show these work.
How to make a hot lemon and honey drink
- Squeeze half a lemon into a mug of boiled water.
- Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey.
- Drink while still warm (do not give hot drinks to small children).
Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect to cough medicines.
You can ask a pharmacist about:
- cough syrup
- cough medicine (some cough medicines should not be given to children under 12)
- cough sweets
These will not stop your cough, but will help you cough less.
Decongestants and cough medicines containing codeine will not stop your cough.
When to get medical help
See a GP if:
- you have had a cough for more than 3 weeks (persistent cough)
- your cough is very bad or quickly gets worse – for example, you have a hacking cough or cannot stop coughing
- 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.
What happens at your appointment
To find out what's causing your cough, your GP might:
- take a sample of any mucus you might be coughing up
- order an X-ray, allergy test, or a test to see how well your lungs work
- refer you to hospital to see a specialist, but this is very rare
Antibiotics are not normally prescribed for coughs.
Your GP will only prescribe them if you need them – for example, if you have a bacterial infection or you're at risk of complications.
What causes coughs
Most coughs are caused by a cold or flu.
Other causes include:
- heartburn (acid reflux)
- allergies – for example, hay fever
- infections like bronchitis
- mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose
A cough is very rarely a sign of something serious like lung cancer.