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 like dust, mucus, and germs.

A cough is a common symptom of many different illnesses. In fact, it’s estimated that a cough accounts for close to 30 million visits to the doctor’s office each year.

The length of time a cough lasts can vary and is dependent on several different 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 your doctor.

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, coughs can be further defined by their duration:

  • Acute cough. An acute cough is a one that lasts less than 3 weeks.
  • Subacute cough. A cough is considered subacute when it lasts between 3 and 8 weeks.
  • Chronic cough. A chronic cough is one that lasts more than 8 weeks.

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 that can be caused by more than 200 types of viruses, although rhinoviruses are the most common type of virus that cause 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 a person 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. It’s caused by different strains of the influenza virus. There are seasonal epidemics of flu every fall and winter around the world.

The symptoms of flu typically ease after 3 to 7 days. However, the CDC notes that a cough can last for 14 days or longer, particularly in older individuals and people who have an underlying lung disease.

Bronchitis is an illness in which the large airways in your lungs (bronchi) become inflamed. It’s often caused by respiratory infections, but can also be caused by exposure to environmental irritants like cigarette smoke and dust.

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

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

Pneumonia is a condition in which the tiny air sacs in your lungs (alveoli) become inflamed. This can lead to symptoms like a cough, fever, and shortness of breath.

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

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

COVID-19 is the respiratory illness that’s caused by the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2. A cough is a common symptom in many people that develop COVID-19.

Although we’re still learning more about COVID-19, some studies have found that a cough due to this respiratory illness tends to persist for an average of 19 days.

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

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

While an occasional cough is present in the early stages of pertussis, the later stages are defined by numerous violent fits of coughing. These fits are followed by the characteristic “whooping” sound as the individual inhales forcefully.

According to the CDC, the coughing fits associated with pertussis can last for 10 weeks or longer. In fact, 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. It can be caused by several different types of viruses.

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, or pet dander. Along with a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes, a cough is a potential allergy symptom.

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, due to the continued presence of allergens in your home or environment year-round.

While many coughs are acute, some may persist for a longer period of time. A cough may linger for several reasons, including:

  • Postnasal drip. Postnasal drip happens when your sinuses produce too much mucus. The mucus can drip down your throat, causing you to cough. Allergies are one common cause of postnasal drip.
  • Infections. A cough that continues even after a respiratory infection has cleared up may be caused by disruption and hypersensitivity of the airways due to the infection.
  • Underlying health conditions. Underlying health conditions can also lead to, or contribute to, a persistent cough. This includes conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and cystic fibrosis. Acid reflux can also lead to persistent cough.
  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes is a leading risk factor for developing a chronic or persistent cough.

A persistent cough can disrupt your day-to-day life and also cause a variety of potential complications, 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 like teas and broths.
  • Breathe in moisture. Adding extra moisture to your environment may help to 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. However, don’t give honey to children under 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 like cigarette smoke, dust, and other environmental irritants that may make your cough worse.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications. For a cough that’s caused by allergies or postnasal drip, OTC decongestants or antihistamines may help. However, 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 your doctor or healthcare provider if your cough hasn’t gone away after 3 weeks.

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

Additionally, see your 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.

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

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