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Coughing is the body's natural way of trying to clear the airways of anything stuck there, mucus after a cold, or irritating smoke or dust.

There are different types of cough - long-term (persistent) and short-term (acute) coughs, and coughing that happens automatically as a reflex. Also, someone may just choose to cough to try to clear their throat.

Coughs can also be dry, tickly or chesty.

Most coughs will clear up on their own - but if they don't get better in 3 weeks - seek medical advice to establish what's causing it.

Causes of short-term coughs

Short-term coughs can have many causes, including:

Causes of long-term coughs

Long-term coughs can also have many causes, including:

Causes of children's coughs

Additional causes of coughs for children include:

  • Croup, with barking cough and stridor breathing sounds
  • Bronchiolitis respiratory tract infection
  • Health conditions, including cystic fibrosis.

When to seek medical advice about a cough

If cough symptoms haven't got better in 3 weeks - seek medical advice.

Other reasons to seek medical advice for a cough include:

  • The cough is getting worse
  • Severe coughing
  • Voice has changed, not just for a short time
  • Coughing up blood
  • Coughing and shortness of breath, difficult breathing, chest pain
  • Unplanned weight loss with a cough
  • Coughing with swelling or lumps in the neck.

Home cough treatments

The NHS doesn't recommend cough remedies or cough medicine because of a lack of evidence that they work - but some people find they bring some relief from cough symptoms. These are not suitable for children under 6 - and only for 6-12 year olds on medical advice.

Instead, try the classic home remedy of honey and lemon - but don't give honey to babies under a year old.

Avoiding things that start you coughing can help - like smoking, secondhand cigarette smoke or dusty conditions.

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