An acute cough may result from a common cold or other infection. It usually lasts up to 3 weeks but can linger. A chronic cough lasts 8 weeks or more and may be a sign of a lung disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

A cough may be a symptom of many different health conditions.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute describes a cough as the body’s natural reflex to keep the airways clear of irritants.

Irritants can include:

  • smoke
  • mucus or phlegm
  • allergens such as pollen, mold, or dust

If the body does not remove irritants from the airways, it can result in infections.

Doctors tend to classify coughs depending on how long they last. A cough might be:

  • Acute: meaning it lasts less than three weeks. Infections such as the common cold, sinusitis, or pneumonia tend to cause acute coughs.
  • Subacute: meaning it lasts between three and eight weeks, lingering after the cold or infection has gone.
  • Chronic: meaning it lasts longer than eight weeks. Conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, and interstitial lung diseases can all cause a chronic cough.

This article will discuss why coughs develop and their function. It will also look at how long coughs tend to last in different circumstances, and when someone should contact a doctor.

a person sits up in bed coughing, how long does a cough last will often depend on what is causing the coughShare on Pinterest
Lambert and Young/Getty Images

How long a cough lasts will depend on the health condition that causes it. For example:

Common Cold

The typical symptoms of the common cold tend to last for different periods of time. They include:

  • a sore throat that lasts around 8 days
  • a headache that lasts between 9–10 days
  • a stuffy or runny nose that can last more than 2 weeks
  • a cough that can last more than 2 weeks


Influenza, or the flu, can cause a wide range of symptoms. Again, symptoms tend to resolve at different times.

Most symptoms, including fever, chills, muscle pains, and a sore throat, will usually clear up in 3–7 days.

Others, including tiredness and a cough, can take more than 2 weeks to go away, particularly in older adults or those with chronic lung disease.


An acute bronchitis infection will come on suddenly and last for between 3–10 days. The associated cough, however, can continue for several weeks afterward.


Scientists are still studying COVID-19. People may experience a variety of symptoms or they may experience none at all.

So far, studies have shown that symptoms, which include a dry cough, can last for at least 2–3 weeks.

In some people, COVID-19 symptoms can linger for months. This is commonly referred to as “long COVID-19.”

Symptoms of long COVID-19 may include fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog,” sleep disorders, fevers, gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety, and depression. They can persist for months.

Researchers are not sure why some people have no symptoms at all, while others go on to develop long COVID-19.

Anyone who suspects they may have COVID-19 should:

  • stay home
  • separate themselves from other people as much as possible
  • contact a doctor and follow their instructions

Whooping cough

Pertussis, or whooping cough, causes a persistent cough that is worse at night.

After about 4 weeks, the cough will usually start to become less frequent and less severe.

However, it can take several months for the cough to go away completely.


Croup is an infection of the upper airway that tends to affect children aged 6 months to 3 years. It causes a repetitive cough that sounds like a bark. It may be worse at night. Other symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sore throat, and congestion.

Most of the time croup tends to resolve on its own within 3–4 days. Consult the child’s healthcare provider if symptoms worsen or linger.


When someone has an allergy, they may cough when exposed to the allergen.

Allergens are different for everyone but common ones include smoke, pollen, dust, and pet dander.

Allergy-related coughs will usually go away once the person has cleared their airways and is no longer in contact with the allergen.

Sometimes, a cough will last for longer than two months. Doctors call this a chronic cough.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), 90% of persistent, or chronic, coughs are caused by one of the following:

  • asthma
  • chronic bronchitis
  • GERD
  • postnasal drip
  • smoking

Sometimes, a chronic cough might be a sign of something more serious, such as:

Coughing persistently can cause a variety of problems, including:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • sleep disruption
  • loss of bladder control
  • fractured ribs
  • fainting, or passing out

When a common illness is the cause of a lingering cough, people can try:

  • over-the-counter cough medicines and cough drops
  • eating a teaspoon of honey
  • using a humidifier or taking a steamy shower to moisturize the air
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • avoiding allergens such as smoke, pollen, or dust
  • quitting smoking

In most cases, a cough will go away by itself, or when the underlying common illness has cleared up.

Sometimes, a cough can be a sign of a more serious or underlying condition.

It is a good idea to see a health care provider if someone:

  • has a persistent cough that lasts longer than 8 weeks after the initial illness
  • has a persistent cough that keeps coming back
  • has a persistent cough with no other symptoms
  • has a persistent cough that brings up blood or red phlegm

A cough is a common illness symptom. Coughing is the body’s way of getting irritants out of the lungs, where they could lead to an infection.

In most cases, a cough will go away when the illness gets better. It might take a week or even a month or so.

Sometimes, a cough might last for longer than 8 weeks. This is known as a chronic cough. It can be a sign of an underlying illness such as asthma or GERD.

Anyone who has an unexplained cough, has a cough that does not go away, or who coughs up blood or red phlegm should speak to a health care provider.