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What to do if you have a persistent cough

Most coughs go away within a few weeks but some persist for longer, making everyday life a little more difficult. A cough that just won’t budge might not be anything serious but don’t diagnose yourself, see your doctor if you’ve had a cough for three weeks or more.

Causes of persistent (chronic) cough

Whereas a short-term cough may be commonly caused by cold or flu and can go away within three weeks or less, a persistent cough lasts much longer and can have a big impact on daily life. The most common causes are:

  • Smoking – a smoker’s cough can be a symptom of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Lung conditions such as bronchiectasis
  • Prescribed medications
  • A long-term infection such as bronchitis
  • Post nasal drip caused by sinusitis
  • Stomach acid irritating the throat from gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)

It’s important to see your GP, especially if you experience the following:

  • Your cough has lasted longer than three weeks
  • The symptoms are severe
  • Your cough shows no sign of improvement
  • You cough up blood or have difficulty breathing


Although rare, chronic coughs can be a sign of something more serious. Do not delay and make an appointment to see your doctor.