That Pesky Cough: Common Misconceptions About Getting Rid of a Cough for Good

Susan Szulc, MD

Do you agree with these statements below?

  • A cough should improve after two days.
  • A cough should be completely gone in 1-2 weeks.
  • Antibiotics will make a cough resolve faster.

All of the above commonly held beliefs are false, but a  recent survey of patients published in Internal Medicine News revealed that most patients agreed with these statements.

Yet, these misconceptions often fuel the overuse of antibiotics.  It can also lead to repeat visits to your PCP requesting “a better antibiotic” when the cough is still there after a week.

So, what should you do to help alleviate your cough?  The average duration of a cough is about 18 days.  The majority of upper respiratory tract infections are viral, so antibiotics will not change the duration of the cough.

Treating a Cough at Home

To take care of yourself at home, here’s what you can do: If your cough is productive of phlegm (regardless of color), try an expectorant with guaifenesin (Mucinex, Tussin). Drink plenty of water to keep secretions thin and easy to cough up.

If your cough is dry and irritating, try a suppressant with dextromethorphan (Delsym, or any cough medicine with DM after it).

Make an appointment to see your primary care physician if your cough lasts longer than expected or if there is blood in your sputum.

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About Dr. Susan Szulc
Susan V. Szulc, MD, is a board-certified internist with Bon Secours Medical Associates at Virginia Beach. She received her bachelor of science in microbiology from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Dr. Szulc earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va., where she also completed a residency in internal medicine. Dr. Szulc is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She is a member of the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Medical Women’s Association. Dr. Szulc’s special interests include palliative care and hypertension.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Szulc please call (757) 305-1797!

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