Coughs All You Need To Know

    Coughs - All You Need To Know




    but there can be other reasons why you can develop one.1

    Read on for all the cough information you need: causes, symptoms, and how to keep them under control.

    A COUGH?

    Most coughs are caused by colds or flu. Other causes can include smoking, heartburn, allergies (hay fever, for example), asthma, infections such as bronchitis, mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose and – very rarely - something more serious. It should clear up on its own within three weeks.1

    A cough is a reflex action to clear away a foreign particle or excess mucus from our airways.2 How it does this is quite complicated, involving our airways, brain and stomach muscles.2 Receptors in our airways get irritated by a foreign particle and send a message to the 'cough centre' in our brain, which triggers a message to our stomach muscles and diaphragm to start a cough to get rid of these pesky invaders.2

    Although coughs are typically caused by common colds, flu or bronchitis, there are other, non-medical reasons, such as smoke, chemicals, perfumes, exercise and even cold air, which can all irritate the airways and bring on a cough.1,3 Some medicines (ACE-inhibitors, for example, used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease) can also cause a cough.4

    Generally, most coughs clear up on their own within three weeks.1

    In children, persistent cough, especially at night, could be a sign of asthma, while intense coughing is common in the serious respiratory infection whooping cough.5,6


    Coughs that last for a few weeks are known as acute coughs. These tend to be caused by infections of the upper respiratory tract, such as colds and flu.1 

    Infection of the lower respiratory tract, deep down in the lungs include bronchitis and pneumonia.1,7

    Some people have chronic coughs that last for longer than 8 weeks.3 These can be caused by smoking, asthma, allergies, mucus dripping down from the throat to the back of the nose, and some medications.3,4


    A chesty or mucus cough is sometimes called a ‘productive’ cough, where coughing is your body’s way of getting rid of mucus in the chest.8

    An expectorant cough medicine, such as guaifenesin, can help loosen the mucus from the respiratory tract.8


    Bronchitis makes you cough up yellow-grey phlegm and you may have other symptoms too, such as stuffy nose, tiredness and headache.10

    Self-care measures are best, such as drinking lots of fluid to make your phlegm a bit thinner and making sure you get plenty of rest.10


    A dry and tickly (non-productive) cough is when the throat doesn’t produce any mucus or phlegm, resulting in irritation.9 It feels tickly, hence its name.9

    A demulcent can coat the throat and relieve irritation in the upper respiratory tract.8

    Demulcents can include water, boiled sweets, lemon, honey, menthol or a simple syrup.8,10


    A post-viral cough can develop after a regular cough.

    Taking a cough suppressant or a demulcent can help.10

    Most coughs should clear up within three weeks.

    But if you have any of the following you should see your doctor if: 1

    you’ve had a cough for more than three weeks

    you can't stop coughing and it's getting worse

    you have long-term lung problems, like asthma

    you’re find it hard to breathe

    have had a cough for more than 3 weks (persistent cough)

    you have poor immune system, for example because you are diabetic or having cancer therapy

    you have chest pain

    you’re coughing up blood (see your doctor urgently)

    you’re also losing weight without trying

    you have a hacking cough


    It's normal for a cough to last up to three weeks, so don't worry.1 If it's caused by a virus, such as colds or flu, antibiotics won't work, and you'll have to wait until your immune system has done its job fighting back against the germ that's the underlying cause.1 But there are plenty of other things you can do in the meantime to help ease your symptoms.

    Making sure you get enough rest and drinking plenty of fluids, such as a hot drink with lemon and honey can help.1 A cough remedy from a supermarket or pharmacy can help too, but remember and choose one that is right for your cough. Lemsip Chesty Cough 50mg/5ml Oral Solution contains guaifenesin, an expectorant that helps loosens phlegm in chesty coughs, while Lemsip Dry Cough 0.25ml/5ml Oral Solution contains the demulcent glycerol to soothe a dry cough and also ease sore throats. If you're not sure which Lemsip is right for you, ask your pharmacist for advice.

    While coughing is important to get rid of lung irritants and excess mucus, coughing at night can interrupt sleep.4,11 This can be caused just by lying flat in bed as mucus can pool in the back of the throat, which triggers a cough.11 It's known as post-nasal drip, and it can be remedied by sleeping with an extra pillow or two to raise your head so that the mucus is less likely to collect in the back of your throat.12 Having a humidifier or vaporiser can help keep the air moist, which can also help.12



    1. Health Services Executive. Cough. Accessed August 2020.
    2. Polverino et al. Multidisciplinary Resp Med, 2012;7:5.
    3. Ternesten-Hasséus E, et al. Cough, 2011;7:6.
    4. International Society for the Study of Cough. Morice A. Cough.
    5. Health Services Executive. Colds, coughs and viral infections in children. Accessed August 2020.
    6. Health Services Executive. Whooping cough in babies and children - symptoms. Accessed August 2020.
    7. Health Services Executive. Bronchitis. Accessed August 2020.
    8. Mutie M. Pharmacy Education 2014; June 2014:65-67.
    9. Sale L. Pharm J, Aug 13, 2020.
    10. Gilchrist A. Contemporary Clinic, Feb 22, 2020.
    11. Singh DP, et al. NCBI Bookshelf. Nocturnal cough. Accessed August 2020.
    12. Scleroderma and Raynaud’s Syndrome UK. Post-nasal drip. Accessed August 2020.

    Lemsip Chesty Cough 50mg/5ml Oral Solution contains Guaifenesin.
    Lemsip Dry Cough 0.25 ml/5ml Oral Solution contains glycerol.