What’s that cough? Everybody coughs; it’s the number 1 illness-related reason people go to the doctor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most cases of coughing are temporary, says Peter Dicpinigaitis, MD, director of the Montefiore Cough Center and professor of clinical medication at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. But even a short-term cough can be a sign of a bigger health issue that needs to be addressed by a doctor. Here’s how to narrow down the possible culpritsfrom asthma to pneumonia to whooping coughso you can get better, fast.

A cold virus

A cough you’ve had for three weeks or less is most likely due to the common cold. Regrettably, this coughwhich is mainly a dry coughing, with some clear mucuscan persist for a month or more after the rest of your symptoms are run. “The virus annoys nerve ending in your air passages, and they can stay sensitive for quite some time, ” says Dr. Dicpinigaitis.

How to treat a cold virus cough: There’s no cure for viral infections, so you’ll have to wait this one out. If your barking is serious and over-the-counter cough suppressants don’t provide relief, your doc may prescribe medicine to soothe your cough reflex, says Gerard W. Frank, MD, clinical professor of medication in pulmonary illnes at UCLA. Over-the-counter decongestants or expectorants can also assist thin out mucus so you can cough up more of it.

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Postnasal drip

If you’ve got a cough( wet or dry) that has lasted eight weeks or longer, you could be suffering from chronic postnasal dripmucus that amasses in the sinuses and drips down the back of the throat, creating a tickling sensation that triggers a coughing. There’s no test for postnasal drip, says Dr. Frank, but you may also have a runny snout or congestion( from allergies or lingering cold symptoms, for example ). Other signs include frequent throat clearing and a sore throat. Because it’s so common, doctors will often try treating it even if they’re not sure of a diagnosis, says Dr. Frank.

How to treat a postnasal drip coughing: A nasal saline rinse may help clear up the problem, or your Md may recommend steroids or antihistamines to reduce inflammation. Pay attention to the color of your mucus: “Coughing up yellow or green mucus means your immune system has really kicked in, which could suggest a bacterial infection, like sinusitis, ” says Dr. Frank. In that case, you’ll need antibiotics.


Asthma usually shows up as wheezing and shortness of breath. But in people with cough-variant asthma, a dry, persistent cough may be the only sign. It’s often worse at night, during or shortly after exert, when you’re breathing cold air or when you’re around an allergen, like pet dander or pollen.

How to treat an asthma coughing: Your physician may give you breathing tests to diagnose asthma or recommend utilizing an inhaler twice a day for a few weeks to see if your coughing subsides. Antihistamines or allergy shootings may also help.

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Acid reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease( GERD) is linked to an estimated 25 percent of chronic cough instances. When acid flows back up into the esophagus, it can annoy nerve endings, triggering a persistent coughing. But it can be hard to diagnose. “Not everyone with GERD get heartburn, ” says Dr. Dicpinigaitus. “If you’re coughing after a meal, when you lie down at night, or upon arising in the morning, or if you have an intermittently hoarse voice along with the cough, these are clues it might be reflux.”

How to treat a chronic cough due to GERD: Most cases of GERD are relatively easy to remedy with antacid medications, but cough-prevalent GERD can be more stubborn, and you’ll need to get checked out by your MD, says Dr. Dicpinigaitis. You might involve larger doses of Rx medicine, and it may take six to eight weeks for you to feel better. Overweight? Slimming down sometimes helps with GERD. Try elevating the head of your bed when you sleep, too.


Sometimes a cough may signal a most severe illness. Pneumonia can develop when a respiratory infection spreads to the lungs, causing the lungs’ air sac to fill with pus. This attains it hard to breathe and produces a wet-sounding, sometimes painful cough. Your condition can become life-threatening in a matter of days. If you’re coughing up lots of green phlegm or blood, are short of breath and/ or have chest discomfort, go to your doctoror an ER if you can’t be seen right away. Fever and chills are other warning signs.

How to treat pneumonia: A chest X-ray is the only route to know for sure whether you have pneumonia, but some doctors will diagnose it by listening to your lungs with a stethoscope, says Dr. Frank. Most serious cases in adults are bacterial and treated with antibiotics.

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Whooping cough

This highly contagious disease is making a comeback, with more than 18,000 examples in the U.S. reported in 2015. The name comes from the “whoop” sounds some people make as they gasp for breath after a long, intense fit of coughing. You can get whooping cough, aka pertussis, even if you’ve been vaccinated( because the shot’s protection weakens over period ).

How to treat whooping cough: If you start them within three weeks of infection, antibiotics may mitigate symptoms. They can also maintain you from spreading the bacteria to other peoplewhich is crucial because an infection can lead to serious illness, even death, in babies.

Other causes

For coughings that don’t respond to the therapies above, your doctor may order a chest X-ray or a CT scan of your lungs or sinuses. This can help rule out serious conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary illnes or lung cancer.

If your hacking appears only at certain times or places, consider allergies or sensitivity to irritants like mold, pollution, or smoke. Guess about your meds, too: Up to 20% of people who take ACE inhibitors( for conditions such as high blood pressure) develop a dry cough.

Finally, some chronic cough can be explained by coughing hypersensitivity disorder. This means you may develop a cough as a result of triggers that don’t cause coughing in most people, says Dr. Dicpinigaitis. Women tend to have a more sensitive coughing reflex than men. But in most cases, the culprit( and the remedy) is there; you simply need some trial and error to find it.

Homemade remedies for coughing

Need short-term relief while you’re riding out a cold or the flu? A few treatments that are worth trying ๐Ÿ˜› TAGEND Honey : “Thick, sweet liquids, even without medication, can allay and diminish cough, ” says Dr. Dicipinigaitis.

Cough falls : “Menthol, found in many over-the-counter lozenges, creates a cooling sensation and has been shown to help suppress coughing. Other cough drop may coat your throat and alleviate soreness, but there’s little evidence to suggest they prevent hacking any better than hard candy.

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Steamy showers: Taking a hot shower or inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water( be careful not to burn your face !) may help loosen mucus and make it easier to cough up, says Dr. Frank.

Coffee: Caffeine is a bronchodilator, entailing it can help open airways, and has been studied( with inconclusive results) as a potential asthma remedybut it should never take the place of an inhaler for someone who needs one, alerts Dr. Frank. It may help ease a coughing, though: In one study, coughers get more relief from drinking a imxture of instant coffee and honey than mixtures containing a common expectorant or a steroid.

This article originally appeared on Health.com .

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