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Managing a cough

While recovering from coronavirus, you might continue to have a cough for some time. On this page, find out how to manage a cough. 

On this page:

Why you might still have a cough

If you’re recovering from coronavirus, you might find that you have a cough for some time. You might have a dry cough, or you might have a productive cough, which produces sputum. If you have a cough with sputum, your breathing might be noisier than normal and you may feel like it’s more difficult to breathe.

If you’re living with any other ongoing symptoms of COVID-19, or want help with issues related to other areas of your life, you might find My Long COVID Needs helpful. This is an assessment tool that prioritises the needs you might have while living with the longer-term symptoms of COVID-19, letting you know what you should do next and the help you’re entitled to. It can direct you to advice and support for issues such as work, caring responsibilities, mental health and many other areas.

What you can do about your cough

Breathing exercises can help to clear a cough with sputum. Try the active cycle of breathing techniques, which includes:

  • breathing control – breathing gently, through your nose if possible. Keep your shoulders relaxed
  • deep breathing – taking a long, slow, deep breath in through your nose if possible, holding your breath for 2 to 3 seconds, and breathing out gently, like a sigh
  • huffing – breathing out through an open mouth instead of coughing. To huff, you squeeze air quickly from your lungs, out through your mouth and throat as if you are trying to mist a mirror.

Read more about the active cycle of breathing techniques on the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care website.

You can also help keep your chest clear by:

  • trying not to stay in one position – for example, lying on your side can often help to move the phlegm from the bottom of your lungs
  • taking any inhalers, antibiotics or steroids you’ve been prescribed
  • drinking enough water – the NHS recommends 6-8 glasses of fluid a day inhaling steam keeping active.

If you have another condition that might be causing you to cough, speak to your GP about how you might be able to tell them apart. If you have any acid reflux, this could be aggravating your chest. Speak to your GP, if this is the case.

Find out how to tell if your symptoms are due to asthma, hay fever, cold, flu or COVID-19.

If you are losing weight, coughing up blood, getting chest pain or if any of your symptoms are getting worse, speak to your GP or phone 111 urgently.

Should I stop smoking? 

If you smoke, now is a good time to stop. You will see the benefits within 24 hours. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to protect yourself from viral infections.

Find out how you can get support to stop smoking. You’re around 3 times more likely to stop successfully if you use a combination of stop smoking treatment and specialist help.


Next: Watch managing breathlessness


We’ve developed this information with funding from Garfield Weston Foundation. The Foundation had no influence on the information, which was developed in line with our usual Asthma + Lung UK information production process.

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.