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Discharge Instructions for Cough—Adult

A cough is a sudden burst of air from the lungs. It can help to clear mucus or foreign items from the airways. Chronic coughs are those that last longer than 8 weeks.

Most coughs are treated with self care.

Steps to Take

Self Care

Use a steam vaporizer or cool-mist humidifier. It may ease your coughing.

Medications

Medicine is not always needed for a cough. If coughing is severe and making you lose sleep, the doctor may advise:

  • Cough medicines
  • Antibiotics—to treat a bacterial infection

Take all the antibiotics you are given. Do this even when you are feeling well.

When taking medicines:

  • Take your medicine as advised. Do not change the amount or schedule.
  • Be aware of the side effects of your medicine. Tell your doctor if you have any.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medicine.
  • Do not share your prescription medicine.
  • Medicines can be harmful when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one. This includes over the counter products and supplements.

Keep Track of Things That Make You Cough

Talk to your doctor about what may be causing your cough or making it worse, such as:

  • Smoke and smoking
  • Allergies to things such as:
    • Dust, pollen, mold, and freshly cut grass
    • Pets and certain plants
    • Cleaning agents and room fresheners
  • Certain medicines such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta-blockers.
  • Asthma
  • Acid reflux

Problems to Look Out For

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Coughing with:
    • Lots of thick phlegm
    • Blood
  • High fever or chills
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rash or hives

Call for emergency medical help or go to the emergency room right away if you have a cough with:

  • Pink or frothy phlegm
  • Breathing problems
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Swelling in the legs

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Lung Association
https://www.lung.org

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://www.familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Lung Association
https://www.lung.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Chronic cough. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/chronic-cough. Accessed April 9, 2021.

Chronic cough in adults—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/chronic-cough-in-adults-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed April 9, 2021.

Smoking cessation: nursing interventions in hospitalized patients. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Accessed April 9, 2021.

Last reviewed March 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 7/23/2021