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Coughs last longer than 2 weeks

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

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 long-term lung diseases such as asthma, should also seek medical advice sooner rather than later.

Reviewed on May 07, 2017

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