Coughs that linger

Many of us have experienced the post-cold phase that includes almost non-stop coughing. You may tell your colleagues and friends that you ‘feel a lot better’ but they don’t believe you, when that pesky cough lingers.

Here, we take a look at why certain coughs tend to linger even after people have recovered, and what the best treatments are.

“Coughing is a protective reflex and removes excess secretions that have built up in the airways, such as during a cold,” said pharmacist Jacqueline Thistleton, the Pharmacy Guild’s Member Services Manager.

Why do coughs linger?

“Coughs can linger post cold because the throat, trachea (windpipe) or lungs are inflamed,” Ms Thistleton said.

“A cough might last for up to three weeks after symptoms of a cold have disappeared, and up to six weeks in children.”

Some coughs will persist for an even longer period.

Postnasal drip occurs when sinuses produce too much mucus. The mucus can drip down the throat, causing people to cough. Allergies are a common cause of postnasal drip.1

Infections can cause a cough that continues even after a respiratory infection has cleared up, and may be caused by disruption and hypersensitivity of the airways due to the infection.1

Underlying health conditions can additionally lead to or contribute to persistent coughing. This includes conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and cystic fibrosis. Acid reflux can also lead to persistent coughs.1

Treating a lingering cough 

“It’s important that people also speak to their pharmacist about a cough and seek the appropriate treatment based on their medical history and symptoms,” Ms Thistleton said. “A range of OTC medications may assist, or, depending on your symptoms, may require an additional referral.”

Opioid derivatives are commonly sold as cough suppressants to suppress the cough reflux from the medulla – the lower part of the brain stem that contains the cardiac, respiratory, vomiting and vasomotor centres regulating heart rate, breathing and blood pressure – to provide relief from frequent coughing, according to an article from the Encyclopedia of Pharmacy Practice and Clinical Pharmacy.2

It’s strongly emphasised that pharmacist take a complete medical and medication history before recommending any products that may minimise a lingering cough, says Ms Thistleton.

To read the full feature as it appears in the May issue of Retail Pharmacy magazine, visit: 


  1. ‘What illnesses or conditions cause wet cough, and how do i treat it in myself or my child?’ 2018.
  2. Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection. ‘Management of respiratory disorders and the pharmacist’s role: Cough, colds, and sore throats and allergies (including eyes)’. 2019. doi: 1016/B978-0-12-812735-3.00510-0