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Acute Cough

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

An acute cough can last up to 3 weeks. Common causes of an acute cough include a cold, allergies, or a lung infection.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have trouble breathing or feel short of breath.
  • You cough up blood, or you see blood in your mucus.
  • You faint or feel weak or dizzy.
  • You have chest pain when you cough or take a deep breath.
  • You have new wheezing.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your cough lasts longer than 4 weeks.
  • Your symptoms do not improve with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Medicines may be needed to stop the cough, decrease swelling in your airways, or help open your airways. Medicine may also be given to help you cough up mucus. Ask your healthcare provider what over-the-counter medicines you can take. If you have an infection caused by bacteria, you may need antibiotics.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell your provider if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage your symptoms:

  • Do not smoke and stay away from others who smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage and make your cough worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Drink extra liquids as directed. Liquids will help thin and loosen mucus so you can cough it up. Liquids will also help prevent dehydration. Examples of good liquids to drink include water, fruit juice, and broth. Do not drink liquids that contain caffeine. Caffeine can increase your risk for dehydration. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day.
  • Rest as directed. Do not do activities that make your cough worse, such as exercise.
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and help decrease your cough.
  • Eat 2 to 5 mL of honey 2 times each day. Honey can help thin mucus and decrease your cough.
  • Use cough drops or lozenges. These can help decrease throat irritation and your cough.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.