Skip to main content

A chronic (persistent) cough is defined as lasting eight weeks or longer in adults or four weeks in children.


A persistent cough may be caused by:

  • A long-term airway infection, such as chronic bronchitis.
  • Asthma – this also usually causes other symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
    An allergy.
  • Smoking – a smoker’s cough can also be a symptom of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Bronchiectasis – where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened.
  • Postnasal drip – mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose, caused by a condition such as
    rhinitis or sinusitis.
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) also known as acid reflux – the backflow of stomach acid that can irritate your throat.
  • A prescribed medicine, such as an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor (ACE inhibitor), which is used to treat high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
  • The most common causes are tobacco use, postnasal drip, asthma and acid reflux.

Treatment options

As with all medical conditions, it is advisable to see your GP for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Chronic cough typically disappears once the underlying problem is treated. Rarely, a persistent cough can be a symptom of a more serious condition.

Seek urgent medical advice if:

  • You have had a cough for more than three weeks
  • Your cough is particularly severe or is getting worse
  • You cough up blood or experience shortness of breath, breathing difficulties or chest pain
  • You have any other worrying symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss, a persistent change in your voice, or lumps or swellings in your neck

Your GP may refer you for tests, such as a chest X-ray, allergy tests, breathing tests, and an analysis of a sample of your phlegm to check for infection.

Diet Tips

  • Vitamins A, C, E and zinc may help the body to combat infection. Citrus fruits as well as red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are high in these vitamins.
  • Garlic and onions should be eaten regularly to help shift mucus out of the lungs and help combat infections. Garlic has natural antibiotic properties which is thought to be useful in fighting infections.
  • Fluids are essential to prevent dehydration. Drink at least 8 cups a day of water, fruit juice, soup and herbal tea.
  • If a specific underlying illness is present, ask your Doctor for an appropriate diet for that condition. See the Asthma and Diet, Smoker’s Diet and Gastric Reflux Diet topics on the HealthPoint.

Vitamins/minerals/herbs supplements may only be of benefit if the underlying cause of the cough is diagnosed and treated by a Doctor.

  • Vitamin C is used for the treatment of respiratory illnesses and to prevent infection.
  • Vitamin A protects the mucous membranes from irritation.
  • Goldenseal can improve the health of the Mucous membranes and relieve rhinitis.
  • Garlic and Echinacea are used to boost the immune system and prevent infections.
  • Eucalyptus oil inhalations can relieve Cough symptoms. Put a few drops in a bowl of boiling water and inhale the fumes.
  • Camphor Oil chest rubs can relieve congestion and coughing at night. Use with caution on children, as some rubs can irritate the skin.

Pharmacist’s advice

  • Medications may contribute to a chronic cough. Ask your Pharmacist if any of your medications have these side effects.
  • Cough mixtures can provide short term relief of symptoms, but they will not address the underlying cause. Ask your Pharmacist for a suitable type.
  • Smoking is a leading cause of chronic cough. Ask your Pharmacist for advice about quitting smoking.
  • Acid reflux is also a leading cause of chronic cough. This condition needs to be diagnosed and treated by a GP. Antacids may provide temporary relief from the symptoms of reflux. In some cases acid reflux can be ‘silent’ with coughing being the only symptom. Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
  • A steam vaporiser may help moisten the air and relieve irritation of the airways.
  • A chest rub ointment may help to relieve congestion and assist with sleep.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed if a bacterial chest infection occurs. It’s important to see your doctor if symptoms persist.
  • If inhaled allergens are causing a persistent cough, face masks can be worn to prevent exposure to environmental allergens (such as when lawn mowing). Your Pharmacist can supply these.

DISCLAIMER: This information is an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, nurse or naturopath before following any medical regimen to see whether it is safe and effective for you.