How long a cough lasts can depend on the cause and other underlying health conditions. You may want to talk with a doctor or healthcare professional if your cough lasts longer than 3 weeks or is severe.

A cough is a reflex that expels air from your airways. It’s your body’s way of helping to clear your airways of irritants such as dust, mucus, and germs.

A cough is a common symptom of many different illnesses. Coughs account for an estimated 30 million visits to a doctor’s office each year.

The length of time a cough lasts can vary depending on several factors.

Below, we’ll explore how long a cough typically lasts for several common illnesses, what to do about a persistent cough, and when to see a doctor or healthcare professional.

Coughs come in a variety of forms. For example, you may see coughs referred to as either productive or nonproductive. A productive cough is a cough that brings up mucus or phlegm, while a nonproductive cough is dry.

Additionally, doctors define coughs by their duration:

Now that you know about the different types of coughs, let’s explore how long a cough can last for several common illnesses.

The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection. These infections can be caused by more than 200 types of viruses, although rhinoviruses are the most common type of virus that causes a cold.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a cough, along with other typical cold symptoms, usually starts within 2 to 3 days of contracting a cold virus.

A cough can often stick around for 10 to 14 days and is usually the last cold symptom to go away. In some cases, a cough may last longer than 2 weeks.

Like the common cold, the flu is also an upper respiratory tract infection. Different strains of the influenza virus cause it. There are seasonal epidemics of flu every fall and winter around the world.

The CDC notes that many flu symptoms typically ease after 3 to 7 days. But a cough can last 14 days or longer, particularly in older individuals and people with an underlying lung disease.

Bronchitis is an illness in which the large airways in your lungs (bronchi) become inflamed. Respiratory infections often cause bronchitis. But exposure to environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke and dust can also cause this condition.

Many cases of bronchitis are acute, or temporary. Symptoms, including cough, usually improve in less than 3 weeks.

Sometimes, bronchitis can become chronic, or long lasting. In these cases, a daily productive cough can persist for 3 months and may come back year after year.

Pneumonia happens when the tiny air sacs in your lungs (alveoli) become inflamed. It can lead to symptoms such as:

  • cough
  • fever
  • shortness of breath

While viruses can cause pneumonia, most cases are caused by a bacterial infection.

Generally speaking, a cough from pneumonia typically resolves or improves within 6 weeks. Exact recovery times can vary by individual as well as the severity of the illness.

Coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). A cough is a common symptom in many people that develop COVID-19.

A cough from COVID-19 tends to last 19 days on average.

Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 may experience a postviral cough beyond the period in which they can pass the virus to others.

This cough may last for weeks or months after the initial infection. Some people even experienced a cough lasting up to 1 year after infection.

If your cough lasts longer than your illness, it may be a symptom of long COVID, also known as post-COVID-19 condition.

Other respiratory symptoms of long COVID can include:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • heart palpitations, or fast-beating or pounding heart

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a potentially serious bacterial infection of your respiratory tract.

While you may experience an occasional cough in the early stages of pertussis, the later stages typically involve violent coughing fits. These fits are followed by the characteristic “whooping” sound as you inhale forcefully.

According to the CDC, the coughing fits associated with pertussis can last 10 weeks or longer. In some regions of the world, the illness is called the “100-day cough.”

Croup is a respiratory infection that occurs predominantly in young children. Several different types of viruses can cause it.

Croup is characterized by a loud “barking” cough that’s often worse in the evening. The symptoms of croup, including a cough, typically begin to clear up in 3 to 7 days.

Allergies happen when your immune system reacts to an otherwise harmless substance, such as:

  • pollen
  • dust
  • pet dander

Potential allergy symptoms can include:

  • runny nose
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • cough
  • congestion
  • sneezing

The length of time you experience a cough due to allergies can vary. For example, it may occur seasonally during pollen season. It could also be chronic. This may be due to the continued presence of allergens in your home or environment year round.

While many coughs are acute or sudden and short lasting, others may persist longer. A cough may linger for several reasons, including:

A persistent cough can disrupt your day-to-day life and also cause a variety of potential other symptoms, such as:

If you have a lingering cough, the following self-care measures may help ease it:

  • Drink fluids: Drinking plenty of fluids may help clear potential irritants from your throat. In addition to water, focus on warm liquids such as teas and broths.
  • Breathe in moisture: Adding extra moisture to your environment may help soothe irritation in your airways and throat. Try using a humidifier or standing in a steamy shower.
  • Drink warm beverages with honey: Mixing 1 or 2 teaspoons of honey in warm water or in an herbal tea may help ease a cough. But don’t give honey to children younger than 1 year old, due to the risk of infant botulism.
  • Suck on cough drops: Sucking on cough drops, throat lozenges, or even hard candies may help soothe an irritated throat.
  • Avoid irritants: Try to stay away from common irritants that may make your cough worse. They can include:
    • cigarette smoke
    • dust
    • environmental irritants
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications: For a cough caused by allergies or postnasal drip, OTC decongestants or antihistamines may help. But use caution with OTC cough medications. Although they can treat an acute cough, they won’t treat an underlying condition that causes a persistent cough.

It’s a good rule of thumb to make an appointment with a doctor or healthcare professional if your cough hasn’t gone away after 3 weeks.

A doctor can study your cough and help identify any underlying conditions that may be causing or contributing to it.

Additionally, see a doctor right away for any cough that:

Many different factors can cause you to cough. Some examples include respiratory infections, allergies, or pollution. Most of the time, a cough is acute, or temporary. Most acute coughs last around 3 weeks or less.

Sometimes, a cough may last longer than 3 weeks, becoming subacute or chronic. This can be due to a postnasal drip, the effects of an infection, or an underlying health condition.

You can treat a cough at home by drinking fluids, adding moisture to the air, and avoiding irritants.

But if your cough lasts longer than 3 weeks or is accompanied by concerning symptoms, make an appointment to see a doctor.

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