Chronic Persistent Cough in Adults

A cough is termed "chronic", which means persisting, if it has hung around for more than eight weeks. A shorter-term cough, lasting up to three weeks, is called "acute", and if it is somewhere in the middle, it's called "subacute". Infections (such as the common cold or a chest infection) are the most common reason for acute coughs, but these usually settle within about three weeks.

Do I need to see a doctor?

If you have had a cough which is not settling after three weeks then always see your doctor. Particularly see your doctor if you have a cough along with:

  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Sweats.

How can I get rid of my cough?

This will depend on the cause. Smoking irritates the airways and is one of the biggest causes of cough. If it isn't causing the cough, it certainly won't be helping it. So if you smoke, please consider quitting.

Other than that, the treatment will be specific to the cause. For example, inhalers may be prescribed for asthma, antacid medicines may be prescribed for reflux, nasal sprays may be prescribed for catarrh coming from the nose.

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  • Cough; NICE CKS, June 2015 (UK access only)
  • Barraclough K; Chronic cough in adults. BMJ. 2009 Apr 24 338:b1218. doi: 10.1136/bmj.b1218.
  • Johnstone KJ, Chang AB, Fong KM, et al; Inhaled corticosteroids for subacute and chronic cough in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Mar 28 (3):CD009305. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009305.pub2.
  • Gibson PG, Vertigan AE; Management of chronic refractory cough. BMJ. 2015 Dec 14 351:h5590. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h5590.
  • Faruqi S, Murdoch RD, Allum F, et al; On the definition of chronic cough and current treatment pathways: an international qualitative study. Cough. 2014 May 29 10:5. doi: 10.1186/1745-9974-10-5. eCollection 2014.
Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
29396 (v1)
Last Checked:
11 May 2017
Next Review:
25 June 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.