Skip to main content
Find a DoctorGet Care Now
Skip to main content
Search icon magnifying glass







How To Stop a Nagging Cough

Coughing man wonders how to stop a nagging cough

Most symptoms associated with common respiratory illnesses will resolve within a couple of days. Yet the cough that often accompanies colds, flu, COVID and RSV can linger for weeks.

Bobbi Duffy-Hidalgo, APRN with Northeast Medical Group, says it’s normal for an acute cough to last anywhere from a few days to three to four weeks. Post viral coughing, which is when you generally feel better but still have a cough, can last up to eight weeks.

During the height of the winter respiratory season, a lingering cough could also be the sign of a new illness.

“There are instances where people are finished with one virus and catch another one because their immune system has run down and then they are exposed to something new,” said Duffy-Hidalgo.

How to stop coughing

Treatments for a cough vary because a cough can be caused by many things, not just seasonal viruses. For example, a dry, hacking cough could be caused by allergies, asthma, GERD (reflux), pneumonia, or bronchitis. In children, a hacking cough could be the sign of croup, an upper respiratory infection that can be severe.

Therefore, Duffy-Hidalgo warns patients not to start taking any over-the-counter medication marketed towards cough.

“Lots of patients that I see have other issues, not just pulmonary issues, that can result in interactions with over-the-counter medicines,” she said. “So, anybody that wants to take something for cough should always check with their provider or pharmacist first.”

Those looking for relief can try other options first. These can include:

  • Starting with humidification: Sit in a steamy room or sauna.
  • Saltwater gargling is valuable for treating postnasal drip, which causes cough.
  • If you don’t have an allergy to honey, honey can be used as a natural cough suppressant. Honey should only be given to those over 1, and always consult your pediatrician before giving a child honey.
  • Stay hydrated with plenty of fluids.

While many coughs go away eventually with at home remedies, others warrant the use of an antibiotic such as strep throat, chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. Anytime kids or babies have a cough, always ask your pediatrician for guidance. Humidification and hydration are important for young patients too, but over-the-counter cough medicines are not recommended and can be dangerous.

When to go to urgent care

Some warning signs to seek medical care right away include shortness of breath and coughing up dark colored mucus. Even if you are generally feeling OK, but don’t feel 100%, it doesn’t hurt to get an evaluation.

“If you know something’s not right and you’re uncomfortable, you should go somewhere and have somebody listen to your chest. That may lead to other diagnostics and treatments,” said Duffy-Hidalgo. “Finding the nearest urgent care is a great place to start.”

Find a Walk-In or Urgent Care location near you.