COVID-19 Symptom: Cough
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- A cough is the most common symptom of COVID-19
- A COVID cough is often a dry cough, although phlegm can also be present
- Symptoms of a COVID cough can last several weeks
- In rare instances, a cough can persist as a symptom of long-COVID-19
A COVID-19 cough is one of the most frequent symptoms caused by the coronavirus. This cough can sound different among those who are infected with the virus. In most cases, it sounds like a dry cough, which is a cough that isn’t accompanied by phlegm. Although the cough goes away on its own in most cases, there are some actions that you can take to feel better.
What is COVID-19 cough like?
A COVID-19 cough is one of the most frequent symptoms of a coronavirus infection. In general, respiratory symptoms such as a cough and shortness of breath are some of the early and more frequent symptoms of a COVID infection. 1
A cough caused by COVID is usually described as a new, continuous cough. This means that the cough suddenly appeared, you’ve coughed a lot for over an hour, or you’ve had 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours. Usually, COVID-19 causes a dry cough, which is caused by irritation of the lungs due to the virus that is present. A dry cough, also called an unproductive cough due to the lack of phlegm or mucus, can feel like a tickle in your throat that doesn’t feel better after coughing. Although it’s less frequent, you can also experience a cough that is combined with phlegm due to COVID-19. 2 3
As there are many variants of COVID, the symptoms may vary according to the variant you’ve been infected with. The Omicron variant of COVID-19 often manifests in the upper airway tract, so the cough may sound quite different than with the other variants. Especially for younger children, their COVID cough may sound like a barking cough, which sounds a bit like the sound that a seal makes. 4 5
How long does COVID-19 cough last?
In most cases, a COVID cough slowly disappears while you’re recovering from your infection. Some may have a lingering cough after COVID-19. The duration of this lingering cough can vary from weeks to months after your COVID-19 infection and can be accompanied by other symptoms of long-COVID. You should seek treatment if: 3 6
- Your COVID cough won’t go away
- Your cough wakes you up at night
- You start coughing up blood, or your phlegm changes to an unusual color
- Your breathlessness is not improving.
Can COVID-19 turn into pneumonia?
In rare instances, a COVID cough can develop into a more serious lung disease. If the COVID virus infects your lungs, it can develop into pneumonia. Having a weakened immune system can also make you vulnerable to catching a secondary bacterial infection that can lead to pneumonia.
Is a COVID-19 cough contagious?
Coughing is one of the key ways that COVID-19 is spread from person to person. The virus can be present in small droplets of saliva that are expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land on surfaces or be inhaled by people nearby, leading to virus transmission.
Currently, the CDC recommends that people isolate for 5 days after testing positive for COVID-19. The most infectious stage is during these first few days. However, a person with a COVID cough can remain infectious as long as the symptoms persist. This highlights the importance of wearing a mask and maintaining social distance to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
COVID-19 cough vs normal cough
Knowing the difference between a COVID cough and a normal cough can be challenging. A cough can have many causes, such as an infection with a virus, allergies, acid reflux, asthma or irritation from smoke or perfumes. To know whether or not your cough is due to an infection with the coronavirus, you should assess your overall health for other possible COVID symptoms and take a COVID test. 7 8
What is the recommended treatment for a COVID-19 cough?
There is currently no specific treatment for a COVID-19 cough. For most people, a COVID cough goes away on its own, so treatment is typically focused on relieving symptoms and managing any underlying conditions. 3 9 10
If your symptoms are bothering you, there are a few things that you can do to feel better:
- Keep yourself well hydrated
- Soothe your throat with a warm drink
- Take enough rest
- Take a sip of water if you feel that you are starting to cough
- Change your sleeping position if your cough keeps you up at night. Avoid lying flat on your back.
- Avoid being around certain things that make you cough, such as smoke, perfumes, and scented candles
- If you have a runny nose, you should blow your nose whenever you feel it running
- Take a cough suppressant - a possible cough medicine for COVID-19 with a more bothersome dry cough. Currently, the best cough medicines that are recommended for a dry cough are codeine linctus, codeine phosphate tablets, or an oral solution of morphine sulfate if the cough is really distressing. You should always consult with a healthcare provider before taking any medicine, especially for patients under 18.
If you have a wet cough with phlegm, then you may try some additional remedies to improve your symptoms such as: 3
- Inhaling steam
- Lying on your side or moving around to drain the phlegm
- Breathing through your nose, as breathing through your mouth can worsen your cough
- If you’re coughing up phlegm, taking a cough expectorant is recommended. Always consult with your doctor before taking medicine.
If your cough persists for more than a few weeks, you should consult your doctor to rule out more serious complications or conditions.
A COVID cough is one of the earliest and most frequent symptoms of an infection with the coronavirus.
If you suspect that you have COVID-19, it is important to test. Testing can confirm a diagnosis and allow you to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Additionally, getting tested gives you the chance to start the road to recovery quicker, including obtaining therapies that may prevent you from developing severe COVID-19.
Q: What to do if your COVID cough won’t go away?
A: If your COVID cough doesn’t go away after the infection has cleared, you should contact your doctor as you may have long-COVID.
Q: Is a COVID cough wet or dry?
A: In most cases, a COVID cough is dry, which means that you won’t cough up any phlegm. In a smaller number of cases, a COVID cough can also be wet.
Q: Do you cough up mucus with COVID?
A: Usually a COVID cough won’t cause you to cough up mucus, although it may be possible in a smaller number of cases.
Q: Where does COVID cough start?
Coughing is a reflex action when the body attempts to clear the airways of any irritants or foreign particles. In the case of COVID-19, the virus attaches to receptors in the respiratory tract and causes inflammation, leading to mucus production and the sensation of needing to cough. This can cause discomfort and make breathing difficult, especially in individuals with underlying lung conditions or weakened immune systems.
Q: What color is COVID mucus?
The mucus or phlegm from a COVID cough will often be clear near the start of your symptoms. The mucus can turn yellow or greenish, a typical sign of a bacterial or viral infection.
Q: Why is COVID Cough sometimes referred to as a Spicy Cough?
In this instance, spicy refers to something more intense than what’s ordinary. A COVID cough can feel more intense, so it’s referred to as a Spicy Cough.
Q: Why is a COVID cough worse at night?
A cough will often get worse at night when lying down. This position allows the mucus to pool at the back of the throat. Using an additional pillow to elevate your head can help to alleviate the amount of post-nasal drip.