When you’re sick or your lungs have become irritated, your body reacts by coughing. This is your body’s defense mechanism to clear out any mucus, allergens, or pollutants so that you don’t keep breathing it in. Coughing is usually nothing to be concerned about. When a cough is a symptom of a cold, it tends to clear up on its own within two or three weeks.

A lingering cough or a chronic cough not brought on by a recent cold can be an indicator of a more serious condition. Coughs that last longer than eight weeks for adults, or four weeks in children, are considered chronic.

Keep reading to find out what it could mean when you have a cough that won’t go away.

The duration of a cough can vary significantly, but longer coughs may be more common than you realize. A cough can clear up in as little as two or three days, but one study found that, on average, a cough due to illness sticks around for 18 days. Conditions like chronic lung disease or asthma can increase the average duration of a cough symptom. A cough can be the last symptom to resolve when you’re recovering from a cold or flu.

Certain types of coughs, like the ones that result from bronchitis or respiratory infections, can linger longer than the coughing you may experience with the common cold. Some other causes of an ongoing cough include:

  • Chronic allergies, hyperactive gag reflex, and acid reflux can create a prolonged irritation in your throat and cause an ongoing cough.
  • Certain types of medications, especially blood pressure drugs, carry a side effect of coughing.
  • Risk factors like smoking and genetic conditions can make you more likely to develop chronic bronchitis, which can lead to chronic coughing.
  • Undiagnosed asthma or other lung disease can cause a chronic cough.

If your only symptom is a lingering cough and you feel otherwise healthy, keep an eye on how long it lasts. Any cough that lasts longer than eight weeks is a reason to contact your doctor. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you have additional symptoms, such as:

  • bloody mucus when you cough
  • shortness of breath
  • weight loss
  • excessive mucus
  • fever

You may need prescription treatment or diagnostic testing to figure out what’s happening in your respiratory system.

In children and babies

If your child has a lingering cough, pay careful attention to the sound of the cough. Any whistling, barking, or wheezing with a cough means you need to take your child to their pediatrician right away. If there are no other symptoms besides coughing, contact your child’s doctor if the cough lasts longer than three weeks.

Pertussis is a serious infection that can be fatal in children under the age of two. It’s also known as whooping cough. Seek medical attention right away for severe bouts of coughing that come along with a fever or shortness of breath in any child. Infants less than 1 year old should see a pediatrician no matter what to rule out pertussis or other serious lung conditions if they have a cough.

A chronic cough can bring complications that lead to other health conditions. Coughing fits can:

  • wake you up from sleeping
  • leave your breathless
  • cause nausea or dizziness
  • cause vomiting
  • cause you to lose control of your bladder
  • interfere with daily activities such as talking, singing, or exercising

Coughing can even lead to passing out if your cough is severe and ongoing.

If you’re experiencing a cough that won’t go away, consider treating it using one or more of these research-backed home remedies. However, these shouldn’t replace any treatments or medications recommended by your doctor.

Peppermint tea with honey

Peppermint tea has been studied for its relaxing effect on various systems of the body. It may help calm your respiratory system. When combined with honey, peppermint tea might help bring you relief from persistent coughing. Honey has been shown to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Thyme and ivy leaf

An herbal preparation of thyme and ivy leaf was found in one study to decrease cough symptoms compared to people not being treated with any remedy.

Essential oils of thyme and ivy leaf can be inhaled through a diffuser at home. They can also be purchased as a tincture of thyme and ivy leaf at your local health food store.

Bromelain

This ingredient has been found to possibly help with allergic irritation to the airways. Bromelain is found in pineapple. It’s often obtained from the stem rather than the fruit of the pineapple. Taking it as a supplement may help with a cough due to allergies.

A cough that won’t go away can be uncomfortable, but it can usually be treated at home. Coughing that lasts eight weeks or more is considering chronic. You may require prescription treatment or further evaluation.

Some symptoms, like bloody mucus, wheezing, or shortness of breath, need to be addressed by your doctor. Always seek medical care for symptoms that are interrupting your sleep or interfering with your daily activities.