A coughing attack can happen for various reasons, and there are several things a person can do to help stop uncontrollable coughing. These include taking antihistamines, using cough medication, avoiding smoking, treating an underlying condition, and more.

Coughing is a symptom of many different health conditions. Some of these conditions are relatively harmless, while others are much more severe.

This article outlines the different types of coughs and lists the most common causes of acute and chronic coughs. It also provides information on how to stop a coughing attack, diagnose a cough, and when to see a doctor.

a person holding a mug of hot water that they are going to sip because that is how to stop a coughing attackShare on Pinterest
A person can try sipping hot water with honey to stop a coughing attack.

There are several methods a person can try to stop a coughing attack when one begins. These include:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • sipping hot water with honey
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines
  • taking a steamy shower
  • using a humidifier in the home
  • using cough drops or hard candies

Many coughs occur due to dryness or irritation in the throat. The methods listed above can all help relieve dryness and irritation if present.

A cough can also be a symptom of an underlying health condition. In these instances, treating the underlying condition should stop the cough.

How to stop infants from coughing

Children and infants who have a cough should drink plenty of water. This will help soothe the throat and minimize coughing. Placing a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier next to a child’s bed can help alleviate nighttime coughing.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend giving OTC cough medicines to children under 2 years of age.

Additionally, people should not give honey to infants under 1 year of age, as it can lead to an illness called infant botulism.

Many different health conditions can cause a cough. It can be helpful to understand the different types of coughs to identify the condition.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), healthcare practitioners classify coughs as follows:

  • Acute cough: This cough occurs suddenly and lasts up to 3 weeks.
  • Subacute cough: This cough comes on suddenly and lasts around 3–8 weeks.
  • Chronic cough: This is a cough that lasts longer than 8 weeks.
  • Productive cough: This is a cough that produces phlegm.
  • Dry cough: This cough does not produce phlegm.
  • Nocturnal cough: This is a cough that only occurs at night.
  • Hemoptysis: This is when a person is coughing up blood or blood-stained mucus from their lungs.

The following are some common causes of acute coughs.


A dry cough is a common symptom of a COVID-19 infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to seek emergency medical treatment if they develop any of the following symptoms:

In most cases, people with COVID-19 will experience symptoms for 1–14 days. The body will fight the infection naturally, but OTC pain relievers and cough-soothing treatments can help to reduce discomfort during this time.

Coronavirus resources

For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

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Upper respiratory tract infections

Coughs are a common symptom of an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). This is a viral or bacterial infection in the nose, sinuses, or throat.

Some examples of URTIs include:

In most cases, respiratory tract infection symptoms pass within 1–2 weeks. During this time, resting, drinking plenty of water, and using OTC pain relievers and cough-suppressant home treatments can help.

Lower respiratory tract infections

Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) affect the lungs’ large airways. Some examples include bronchitis and pneumonia.

Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchi, the lungs’ main airways. The primary symptom of bronchitis is a dry or productive cough. A productive cough may produce green, yellow, or blood-tinged mucus.

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. It typically causes a dry or productive cough.

Most healthy adults can recover from mild pneumonia or bronchitis within 1–3 weeks. However, in cases of severe infection, prescription treatments and medical intervention may be necessary.

Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, occurs when a person’s immune system overreacts to something in the environment.

Common environmental allergy triggers, or allergens, include:

Allergic rhinitis symptoms typically resolve once a person removes the irritant from their surrounding. Taking antihistamines may reduce the severity of the reaction in the first instance.

Inhaling irritants

A person may develop an acute cough after breathing in certain environmental irritants. Examples include:

Inhaling irritants can cause symptoms similar to those of allergic rhinitis, and treatment is often the same.

However, in the case of severe reactions, seek medical help.

The sections below outline some of the more common causes of a chronic cough.


Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. This narrowing makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties.

There is no cure for asthma, but treatments are usually effective in managing the condition.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of chronic lung conditions that obstruct airflow in and out of the lungs.

COPD can inflame and thicken the airways within the lungs, damaging the lung tissue responsible for exchanging gases.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer type in the United States. It occurs when cells divide uncontrollably in the lungs, causing tumors to grow. Tumors can cause breathing difficulties, and spread to other parts of a person’s body.

People with lung cancer may not have symptoms until the disease is at an advanced stage.


A cough can sometimes be a side effect of certain medications.

A cough is one of the most common adverse side effects of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs). Doctors sometimes prescribe these to treat high blood pressure.

To prevent a coughing fit, a person must identify and treat the underlying cause of the cough.

People with chronic respiratory conditions will require medical treatments to reduce the frequency and severity of coughing fits. Those who develop coughing fits in response to certain allergens or irritants should try limiting their exposure to those substances.

Another option for people with allergies is to take antihistamines. These drugs help suppress the immune system’s response to environmental allergens, thereby preventing coughing fits.

Coughing is a common symptom of a variety of health conditions. According to the ALA, a person should take note of the duration, type, and features of their cough when speaking with a healthcare professional to assist with diagnosis.

If a person is experiencing other symptoms, such as chest pains, difficulty breathing, headaches, drowsiness, confusion, fever, and they are coughing up blood then a doctor may prescribe further tests.

A person should see a doctor if their cough is severe, persistent, or worsens over time. These characteristics can indicate that a person requires medical treatment.

Parents and caregivers should also speak to a doctor if their child displays any of the following symptoms:

  • a fever of any kind in an infant under 3 months of age
  • a fever of 102°F (38.9ºC) or higher in a child of any age
  • cyanosis of the lips
  • wheezing

Here are some frequently asked questions about coughing.

How do you stop a cough attack ASAP?

If a person needs to stop coughing, a person can try drinking water, taking OTC cough medications, and using cough drops. To help prevent future cough attacks, it is also important to address any underlying conditions that may be causing coughing.

Why do cough attacks happen?

Cough attacks can happen for a number of reasons. Causes of acute coughs can include LRTIs, URTIs, COVID-19, and allergic rhinitis. Causes of chronic coughs can include asthma, COPD, lung cancer, and a side effect of medication.

How do I stop uncontrollable coughing at night?

Using a cool humidifier and taking steps to remove irritants and allergens from the room may help control coughing at night. A person may also need to treat an underlying condition.

How long does a cough attack last?

How long a cough attack lasts will be different for each person and condition. A person can take steps to reduce the duration of a cough attack. These include sipping hot water with honey, using cough drops, and taking a hot shower. If the cough does not go away or if it affects a person’s ability to breathe, they should seek medical advice.

There are several steps a person can take to stop or manage a cough. These include drinking plenty of water, taking over-the-counter cough medicines, and using an indoor humidifier.

Several health conditions can cause a cough. Some are relatively harmless and tend to go away on their own. Others are much more severe and may require medical treatment.

A person should talk with a doctor if they develop a severe, persistent, or worsening cough. A person should also contact a doctor if they or their child develop any other concerning symptoms.

A doctor will work to identify the cause of the symptoms and prescribe appropriate treatments.