Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Cold & flu health centre

Select a topic to explore more.
Select An Article

Coughs last longer than 2 weeks

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
man coughing

If you have a cough and cold, how long should it last? The answer, according to research evidence, is around 18 days. However, a 2013 US study found many people with a cough become concerned after about 5 to 9 days.

University of Georgia experts say coughs last for longer than we think they do. People think a cough should have ended in a little over a week, but the reality is that a cough is more likely to last 2 weeks.

In the study, researchers asked 500 adults from the state of Georgia how long a cough should last in different situations, such as with a fever or without. They compared these answers to those found in the medical literature.

They found a big difference between how long people think a cough should last and how long it actually does. The findings appeared in the journal the Annals of Family Medicine.

Antibiotics don’t help most coughs

People in the study who had previously taken antibiotics for a cough were more likely to believe that antibiotics are always helpful for a cough. However, antibiotics don’t treat viruses (the cause of most upper respiratory infections), and using them when they are not needed can lead to antibiotic resistance.

Although people who received antibiotics for a cough due to a virus may feel better after 7 days, it is often just the cough getting better on its own.

Still, there are some warning signs that a cough may be caused by something more serious than a virus. These include coughs accompanied by:

  • Brown or bloodied sputum
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Sudden onset of symptoms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Weight loss

The NHS also advises seeking medical advice if a cough lasts more than 3 weeks or is particularly severe or getting worse.

People who smoke, and those with chronic lung diseases such as asthma, should also seek medical advice sooner rather than later.

Next Article:
Published on June 23, 2015

Stay informed

Sign up for BootsWebMD's free newsletters.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman coughing
Home remedies for coughing
smiling baby
Causes and remedies
man holding sore neck
16 tips when you have a lot of weight to lose
mother and child
Caring for a baby with cows' milk allergy
woman holding mouth
What causes sensitive teeth?
man holding sore neck
8 signs you're headed for menopause
man holding sore neck
The best time to do everything
bain illustration
Best foods for your brain
woman doing situps
7 most effective exercises
avacado on whole wheat crackers
Plenty to choose from
egg in cup
Surprising things that can harm your liver