Everything You Need to Know About Coughs

A cough can occur for a number of reasons including upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs).1

Read on for some of the cough-related information you need: causes, symptoms, and some cough natural remedies you can try to help ease them.

What Are Cough-Related Symptoms?

The symptoms related to a cough depend on what’s causing it.1 For example, a cough is often a symptom of a URTIs, which are usually caused by viral infections that can infect areas like your nose, throat, and upper airways.2,3,4  

URTIs can cause a variety of symptoms, including a dry cough (irritating or tickle), sore throat, blocked or runny nose, headache, watery eyes or sneezing.4

URTIs can also affect the sinuses, which can result in an increased production of mucus and a subsequent post-nasal drip which can also trigger the cough reflex.2 While most symptoms of URTIs usually resolve on their own, usually around about 7 to 10 days,4 for some a cough can sometimes take a little longer to resolve —up to 3 weeks.5,6

Infections of the lower respiratory tract may also cause a “chesty cough” which can produce a thick mucus, known as phlegm1. With this type of cough, there might also be a wheezing sound as the phlegm is coughed up from the lungs.1 Other health conditions can cause a dry cough which may also be accompanied by wheezing.1


What Causes Coughs?

A cough is a normal reflex action used to clear away foreign particles irritating the airway.7 

It may surprise you to know that coughing is a rather complex process, involving the nervous system (including your brain), the lungs, and abdominal muscles.2,8 

A cough reflex starts when cough receptors in the throat and airways are triggered.2,8 This sends a message to the brain for the lungs to take a deep breath, and then forcefully expel the air (with the help of the abdominal muscles).2,8 

People can experience a short-term cough from a URTI viral infection – a short term or acute cough is one which usually lasts less than three weeks.16

If a cough that lasts more than 8 weeks, this is known as a chronic cough.16 A chronic cough may be caused by an underlying condition, or if the cough reflex becomes overly sensitised.1

If you develop a cough and your symptoms worry you, see your doctor for advice.1

Types of Coughs

You may have heard people describe coughs as either ‘productive’ or ‘dry’. Here’s what they mean.


Productive Cough

A productive cough (sometimes called a ‘chesty cough’) occurs when mucus is produced in the airways.4,9 This usually occurs later on in the course of an URTI and may be a sign that the infection has spread to the lower airways, triggering the production of mucus. 4 Coughing is your body’s way of getting rid of this mucus from your chest. 8


Non-Productive Cough

A non-productive cough, also known as a ‘dry cough’, does not produce any phlegm or mucus.1 For some people this type of cough can be disruptive, impacting things like sleep which can leave you feeling exhausted. 4,10 This type of cough is usually caused by inflammation in the nose, throat, voice box (larynx) and trachea areas, which stimulate the cough reflex.4

Post-Infectious Cough

A cough may develop during recovery from an URTI due to the increased sensitivity of the airways.2 This is called a ‘post-infectious cough’, and is likely related to the damage caused by the URTI.2 A post-infectious cough can last for 3–8 weeks after an URTI.11

Cough Treatment and Prevention

If you have a persistent cough, you should see your doctor to make sure you get the right treatment.1 Since most short-term coughs are due to a viral infection, they may resolve on their own.16 But if you need a helping hand, here are some cough natural remedies and tips on what to take for a cough: 

  • Stay well hydrated1 – drink adequate fluids to prevent dehydration and to help thin any mucus.You can also try a hot drink with lemon and honey, this might help soothe the throat.17,19
  • Get plenty of rest–  avoid vigorous activity until your symptoms go away.
  • Avoid smoking1 – 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. 
  • Have some honey1,17 — honey may help to reduce the severity and duration of a cough. One to 2 teaspoons of honey taken 30 minutes before bedtime may be helpful. It has been shown to help children with cough but should never be given to children aged under 12 months.
  • Take an over-the-counter cough medication – an expectorant cough medicine may help to loosen and thin the mucus, making it easier to cough up.2,15 A cough suppressant for dry cough (also called an antitussive cough medicine) may help reduce coughing by suppressing the cough reflex.2,15 

When to See a Doctor for a Cough

A cough associated with an URTI should usually clear up on its own within 10 days to 3 weeks.5,6


However, you should see your doctor if:1,3,6 

You’ve had a persistent cough lasting more than 3 weeks


Your cough is troubling you or gets worse


You’re pregnant


You feel very unwell


You’re immunocompromised


You’re losing weight for no reason


You should seek urgent medical assistance if:1,3,6

You have chest pain or a rapid heart rate


You’re having difficulty breathing


You’re coughing up blood - this is very urgent


Additionally, you should see a doctor if your child has a cough with a fever, a reduced thirst or any of the above characteristics.1 You should also seek medical help if your child’s cough appears suddenly, lasts longer than two weeks, and/or they appear lethargic and unwell.1

Lemsip Products


For relief from multiple symptoms including chesty cough, try Lemsip All in 1 Multi-Symptom Relief hot drink or capsules. These products have added guaifenesin which may help relieve a cough and are available as convenient capsules or as a hot drink to also help relieve your sore throat.16,18

Lemsip has a range of over-the-counter relief products, designed specifically for the symptoms you are experiencing: 


You can pick Lemsip products up from your local pharmacy or supermarket. Talk to your pharmacist about which product is best for you.

This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.

[AU Mandatories]
Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Incorrect use could be harmful. RKT-M-01557.


1. HealthDirect. Cough. Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cough. Accessed September 08, 2022

2. Sharma S, et al. Cough. (Updated 2020 Feb 14). In: StatPearls (Internet). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493221/; Accessed May 17, 2020.

3. Irwin RS, et al. Classification of cough as a symptom in adults and management algorithms. CHEST guideline and expert panel report. Chest 2018;153(1):196-209.

4. Eccles R. 2009 Mechanisms of symptoms of common cold and flu. In: Eccles R., Weber O. (eds) Common Cold. Birkhäuser Advances in Infectious Diseases (BAID). Birkhäuser Basel.

5. Shields MD & Thavagnanam S. The difficult coughing child: prolonged acute cough in children. Cough 2013;9:11.

6. Holzinger F, Beck S, Dini L, Stöter C, Heintze C. The diagnosis and treatment of acute cough in adults. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014;111(20):356-363.

7. Gibson P, et al. CICADA: Cough in children and adults: diagnosis and assessment. Australian cough guidelines summary statement. Med J Aust 2010;192:265-271.

8. Andrani F, et al. Cough, a vital reflex. Mechanisms, determinants and measurements. Acta Biomed 2018; 89(4):477-480.

9. Begic E, et al. Productive cough in children and adolescents – View from primary health care system. Med Arch 2017;71(1): 66-68.

10. Michaudet C & Malaty J. Chronic cough: Evaluation and Management. Am Fam Physician 2017;96(9):575-580.

11. Merlo C, et al. Trials 2020;21:949.

12. Australian Government Department of Health. Flu (influenza). Updated May 27, 2020. https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/flu-influenza. Accessed July 14, 2020.

14. Guppy MPB, et al. Advising patients to increase fluid intake for treating acute respiratory infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD004419.

15. Kincade S & Long NA. Acute bronchitis. Am Fam Physician 2016;94(7):560-565.Thielmann A, et al. Self-Care for Common Colds by Primary Care Patients: A European Multicenter Survey on the Prevalence and Patterns of Practices—The COCO Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2016;2016: 6949202.

16. Cough in adults. In: Therapeutic Guidelines [digital]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; Dec. 2020 [cited Sept 2022]. Access from: https://www.tg.org.au

17. Eccles, R. Lung. 2020; 198(5): 727–34.

18. Australian Medicines Handbook 2022 (online). Cough. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook Pty Ltd; 2022 July. Available from: https://amhonline.amh.net.au/

19. Klimek-Szczykutowicz, M et al.  Plants (Basel). 2020 Jan; 9(1): 119.