Winter colds and flu can kick up coughs — the body’s natural response to expelling mucus and other nasties. And while most of your hacking will subside within a couple weeks, chronic symptoms can persist longer… and may be a sign of a lingering infection or other medical condition like asthma, allergies, acid reflux, and even lung cancer. How do you know if that throat–clearing is a worrisome sign or something benign?
Seek medical attention if:
The cough lasts longer than 3–8 weeks, depending on severity
Your cough is accompanied by a fever higher than 100° for 3 days or longer
You cough up a bloody substance
Your mucus is discolored
Your cough leaves you wheezing or short of breath.
In the meantime, temper that tickle with these tips:
Try honey and lemon juice before you go to bed to ease the dry spasm (one study of children found that buckwheat honey was just as effective as dedextromethorphan, one of the active ingredients in most over-the-counter cough medicines)
Prop up your pillows to reduce irritation
Drink plenty of water to help thin out mucus in a productive cough
Sit in a bathroom with hot water running to open up airways
Suck on a peppermint candy or lozenge to moisten the throat