How long will this cough last?

Seems like anywhere you go right now, you’ll run into someone coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose. Often symptoms of a common cold subside on their own after a few days, but a cough can linger.

Marc Baumgartner, MD, a doctor at Fairview Urgent Care – Brooklyn Park, who  sees lots of people who struggle with a stubborn cough.

“Often I’ll see patients wondering whether they need an antibiotic to kick their cough. Most of the time, it’s a symptom of the common cold, which is a virus, so an antibiotic won’t help,” says Dr. Baumgartner. “A cough is your body’s way of responding when something irritates your throat or airways. Viruses can cause your airway to become swollen and sensitive.”

There are at least 200 viruses that have been linked to common cold, making it is possible to have back to back viruses which may prolong the course as long as 3 or 4 weeks.

At what point should you see a doctor for a cough?

  • When your symptoms get worse
  • Experiencing shortness of breath, chest discomfort
  • Prolonged or increasing fever
  • Cough persisting while common cold symptoms have improved

If you are more susceptible to pneumonia such as young, old or immunocompromised or have a history of hospitalization due to previous pneumonia, it’s best to get checked out.

How do you soothe a cough?

The majority of colds are a virus, and you simply have to wait it out. You can soothe your symptoms though.

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home. You can also try a steamy shower.
  • Stay hydrated. Along with dry air, dehydration can irate the airway lining. Warm liquids like tea or broth, can sooth your throat.
  • A teaspoon of honey can help loosen a cough
  • Cough drops or lozenges can help (don’t give to young children due to choking risk)

Do not give children under age 4 over the counter cough medicine.

When is a cough not a cold?

A lingering cough isn’t always related to a cold.

“Often allergy, asthma or acid reflux can prolong or worsen coughing, or even be the primary diagnosis in cases where coughs persists beyond 7 to 10 days, especially if the symptoms related to an upper respiratory infection have resolved,” says Dr. Baumgartner.  “Rarely, a cough that persists can be a sign of something more worrisome especially in those who use tobacco products and should not be neglected for too long without further testing or imaging studies.

See a doctor if your cough doesn’t go away after several weeks, or if you’re coughing up thick phlegm, wheezing, running a fever above 100 or experience shortness of breath.

Fairview Urgent Care

Fairview’s 9 urgent care clinics across the Twin Cities provide care for people of all ages, including Andover, Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Eagan, Edina, Lakeville, North Branch, St. Paul (Highland Park) and Wyoming.  Open week days, evenings and weekends, we’re here to help you feel better.  You can check estimated wait times online at  You don’t have to be a Fairview patient. Just come in when you need us.

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