A cough is a normal bodily response that’s designed to clear mucus and other irritants from the lungs.
In most cases, it’s nothing to worry about and gets better on its own. Sometimes, however, a cough can be a sign of a condition that needs medical attention.
But how can you tell when it’s time to worry about a cough? The length of time you’ve had the cough often provides a clue.
A cough can be defined by how long it lasts. The different types are:
An acute cough is usually caused by a viral illness like the common cold. It typically clears on its own after a couple of weeks. However, subacute and chronic coughs should always be assessed by a doctor.
An acute cough is usually caused by a viral infection of the nose, sinuses and/or throat (known as the upper respiratory tract). These are infections like a cold or the flu. But a cough can also be caused by infections or inflammation of the lungs and airways, such as acute bronchitis or pneumonia.
An acute cough can also be triggered by an allergy or a flare-up of a long-term condition like asthma.
This type of cough can usually be treated at home with plenty of rest and fluids. However, see a doctor if:
You should seek immediate medical help if you’re coughing up blood.
If you’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks, see a doctor. Your cough may be caused by conditions, including:
In rare cases, a persistent cough can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
If you’re coughing up blood you should see a doctor urgently.
A cough is not usually anything to worry about, and should clear up on its own within 3 to 4 weeks. However, if you experience any of the concerning symptoms mentioned in this article or you’re worried about your cough, see a doctor.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.