Cough: Care Instructions

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A cough is your body's response to something that bothers your throat or airways. Many things can cause a cough. You might cough because of a cold or the flu, bronchitis, or asthma. Smoking, postnasal drip, allergies, and stomach acid that backs up into your throat also can cause coughs.

A cough is a symptom, not a disease. Most coughs stop when the cause, such as a cold, goes away. You can take a few steps at home to cough less and feel better.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Drink lots of water and other fluids. This helps thin the mucus and soothes a dry or sore throat. Honey or lemon juice in hot water or tea may ease a dry cough.
  • Take cough medicine as directed by your doctor.
  • Prop up your head on pillows to help you breathe and ease a dry cough.
  • Try cough drops or hard candy to soothe a dry or sore throat.
  • Do not smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You cough up blood.
  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You have a new rash.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You cough more deeply or more often, especially if you notice more mucus or a change in the color of your mucus.
  • You have new symptoms, such as a sore throat, an earache, or sinus pain.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.