Call your doctor if your cough (or your child's cough) doesn't go away after a few weeks or if it also involves any one of these:
- Coughing up thick, greenish-yellow phlegm
- Experiencing a fever
- Experiencing shortness of breath
- Experiencing fainting
- Experiencing ankle swelling or weight loss
Seek emergency care if you or your child is:
- Choking or vomiting
- Having difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Coughing up bloody or pink-tinged phlegm
- Experiencing chest pain
Cough medicines usually are used only when cough is an acute condition, causes a lot of discomfort, interferes with sleep and is not associated with any of the potentially worrisome symptoms indicated above. If you use cough medicine, be sure to follow the dosing instructions.
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are intended to treat the symptoms of coughs and colds, not the underlying disease. Research suggests that these medicines haven't been proved to work any better than inactive medicine (placebo). More important, these medications have potentially serious side effects, including fatal overdoses in children younger than 2 years old.
Don't use over-the-counter medicines, except for fever reducers and pain relievers, to treat coughs and colds in children younger than 6 years old. Also, consider avoiding use of these medicines for children younger than 12 years old.
To ease your cough, try these tips:
- Suck cough drops or hard candies. They may ease a dry cough and soothe an irritated throat. Don't give them to a child under age 6, however, because of the risk of choking.
- Consider taking honey. A teaspoon of honey may help loosen a cough. Don't give honey to children younger than 1 year old because honey can contain bacteria harmful to infants.
- Moisturize the air. Use a cool mist humidifier or take a steamy shower.
- Drink fluids. Liquid helps thin the mucus in your throat. Warm liquids, such as broth tea or lemon juice, can soothe your throat.
- Avoid tobacco smoke. Smoking or breathing secondhand smoke can make your cough worse.
June 13, 2020
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing!
You'll soon start receiving the latest Mayo Clinic health information you requested in your inbox.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
- Cough. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/cough. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- Kasi AS, et al. Cough. Pediatrics in Review. 2019;40:157.
- Cough in adults. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/symptoms-of-pulmonary-disorders/cough-in-adults?query=cough. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- Cough in children. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/symptoms-in-infants-and-children/cough-in-children?query=cough. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- When to give kids medicine for coughs and colds. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/when-give-kids-medicine-coughs-and-colds. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- Kellerman RD, et al. Cough. In: Conn's Current Therapy 2019. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2019. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- Broaddus VC, et al., eds. Cough. In: Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- AskMayoExpert. Chronic cough. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2017.
- Use caution when giving cough and cold products to kids. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/special-features/use-caution-when-giving-cough-and-cold-products-kids. Accessed May 8, 2019.
- Thompson DA. Cough. In: Adult Telephone Protocols: Office Version. 4th ed. Itasca, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2018.
- Schmitt BD. Cough. In: Pediatric Telephone Protocols: Office Version. 16th ed. Itasca, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2018.
- Pappas DE. The common cold in children: Management and prevention. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 20, 2019.
- Green JL, et al. Safety profile of cough and cold medication use in pediatrics. Pediatrics. 2017;139:1.
- Botulism: Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/botulism/prevention.html. Accessed June 4, 2019.
- Olson EJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 5, 2019.
- Laryngitis. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/laryngeal-disorders/laryngitis. Accessed June 10, 2019.
- Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Accessed June 11, 2020.