Upper-respiratory tract infections usually pass within a week or two—but the annoying coughing sometimes persists much longer.
Good news: That cough doesn’t mean that you’re still infectious, and it is unlikely to cause any long-term damage to your health. It’s usually just a sign that your airways are still irritated from the infection that’s now passed.
Still, a cough that won’t go away can be uncomfortable and disruptive, making it difficult to sleep and exercise—consequences that themselves can have a negative impact on your health. A cough also can make everyone you encounter concerned that that you might be spreading germs. What to do…
See your doctor if you’re still coughing six to eight weeks after a respiratory infection has passed. When a cough lingers this long, your health-care provider might prescribe oral steroids to reduce inflammation of the airways or an albuterol inhaler to open up the airways. In the meantime, home remedies and over-the-counter products may provide some short-term relief from a persistent cough, including honey, cough medicine, lozenges and hot showers.
See your doctor immediately if you cough up blood…run a persistent fever…experience chills or body aches…or any other symptoms accompany the lingering cough. These symptoms could indicate an ongoing infection, not just a remnant of one that has passed.
Caution: A lingering cough that was not preceded by an upper-respiratory tract infection such as flu or COVID could be a symptom of asthma, allergies, gastroesophageal reflux disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or even lung cancer. Also: Taking an ACE inhibitor—a medication often prescribed for high blood pressure—can cause a persistent cough.