Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Cough is a common symptom for colds and the flu.

Cough is a common symptom for colds and the flu.
beginning of content


2-minute read

What is a cough?

Most coughs are caused by viruses which inflame the throat, windpipe or lungs. Coughs caused by viruses can last for several weeks, but your body will normally fight off the infection without the need for medical treatment.

Coughs can also be caused by an infection like laryngitis, sinusitis, whooping cough, bronchitis or pneumonia. Sometimes they are caused by an allergy or a flare up of a long-term problem like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or chronic bronchitis.

Antibiotics are of no use in a viral infection.

Cough is a common symptom for colds and the flu. It can be difficult to tell the difference between them. In general symptoms are more intense with the flu.

Self-care of a cough

If you are looking after yourself, the tips below may help relieve the symptoms:

  • It is important to stay well hydrated so drink plenty of water. If you have an existing medical condition check with your doctor about how much water is right for you. Use extra pillows (for older children and adults) or raise the head of the bed to reduce coughing at night.
  • Keep the room at a comfortable temperature.
  • Rest and avoid heavy activity until symptoms go away.
  • Smoking or breathing in other people’s smoke can make symptoms worse. Try to avoid being around people who are smoking. If you are a smoker, try to cut down or quit. For advice on quitting smoking, visit the Quit Now website.
  • Find out more about self-care tips if you have a high temperature (fever).

Please seek medical attention if:

  • you have a cough that lasts for more than 3 weeks
  • the cough is severe or getting worse
  • you are short of breath
  • you cough up blood
  • you have unexplained problems like weight loss or a fever.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your cough, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Chronic bronchitis | HealthEngine Blog

Chronic bronchitis is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The main symptom is chronic cough. The most common cause is smoking.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Dry coughs -

A dry cough is non-productive and irritating, and sometimes causes a tickly throat. Find out what products are available for a dry cough.

Read more on myDr website

Cough: productive or 'wet' cough -

A productive or 'wet' cough brings up mucus or phlegm. Find out the causes and when to see the doctor.

Read more on myDr website

Cough: productive or 'wet' cough treatments -

Treatment for a productive or wet cough: find out about different treatments and what not to do.

Read more on myDr website

Habit cough in children -

A habit cough is a repetitive cough that occurs in the absence of any underlying disease. The cough is usually loud, harsh, honking or barking, and usually affects school age children.

Read more on myDr website

Chesty coughs -

When you have a chesty cough (wet, productive or phlegmy) your chest feels heavy and you may cough up mucus or phlegm. Find out what products are available for a chesty cough.

Read more on myDr website

Coughing: Children | HealthEngine Blog

The cough is one of the most common things for human beings to do

Read more on HealthEngine website

When should you see a doctor about a cough? | HealthEngine Blog

When you have a cough, air will get expelled as a result of some irritant. This is usually involuntary, and it is reflex action taken by the body to clear up your airways of mucus and irritants (e.g. smoke and dust).

Read more on HealthEngine website

Coughs, colds & sore throats

Antibiotics arent likely to help coughs, colds or sore throats. Download a factsheet about treating respiratory infections here.

Read more on Choosing Wisely Australia website

Cough and sneeze etiquette | HealthEngine Blog

Cough and sneeze etiquette refers to simple hygiene practices everybody can take to prevent passing on respiratory infections like cold and flu to other people.

Read more on HealthEngine website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo