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A woman coughing

Why do I still have a cough?

A cough helps you to clear your lungs and throat.

As you get better from COVID you might have a dry cough that lasts for a long time. This can develop into a cycle. Coughing can make you breathe through your mouth and change your breathing pattern. This allows dry cold air to enter the throat and lungs quickly. This air irritates the throat and lungs making the throat drier; causing a tickle in your throat that makes you cough more.

Cycle of circumstances which lead to a cough

If you follow the advice on this page, it should help you stop coughing.

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How can I control my cough?

Remember that your cough will be better on some days, worse on other days and at different times of the day. If you do this breathing exercise, it will help you to control your cough:

  • Practise breathing normally
  • Feel your stomach push out and move back as you breathe in and out
  • Breathe through your nose to start with
  • Do this for a short time and often during the day until it is a habit
  • Practise this breathing exercise when you do gentle activities if you can

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Other ways to reduce your dry cough

  • Close your mouth and swallow
  • Gently breathe in and out through your nose until you stop feeling like you need to cough
  • Drink hot or cold drinks regularly
  • Suck on throat sweets – you can buy sugar free options
  • Avoid things that make you cough e.g. smoking, air fresheners, strong perfumes and deodorants

Doing two or more of these things should help to reduce or stop your dry cough. Try all of them out and find out what works best for you.

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Why do I have a cough that produces mucus?

It is normal to produce mucus (phlegm) as it helps to keep your lungs and airways clear and clean.

Mucus (phlegm) is a slimy and slippery liquid that traps bacteria in your nose and throat which stops infection from spreading.

You may find you produce a lot of mucus (phlegm) following an admission to hospital for COVID. After a chest infection your breathing may be noisier than normal, and you may be short of breath.

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Why is it important that I clear my lungs?

  • It helps to stop you from getting another chest infection
  • It allows you to breathe more easily during exercise and daily activities
  • It helps you to stop coughing a lot

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Breathing exercise that helps to clear mucus (phlegm)

This breathing exercise has 3 parts and should help you to clear your phlegm, do not try to force it out. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to rest during and after this exercise.

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Part 1 – Breathe slowly through your mouth

  • To start the exercise, sit upright and make sure you are comfortable
  • Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose
  • Hold your breath for a count of 3
  • Breathe out gently and slowly through your mouth

Repeat this 3 or 4 times.

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Part 2 – Breathe gently

Do some gentle, relaxed breathing for 20 to 30 seconds.

Repeat this 3 or 4 times.

Learn more about:

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Part 3 – Clear your mucus (phlegm)

  • Take a slow deep breath in through your nose
  • Breathe the air out quickly 2 or 3 times through your mouth keeping your throat open as if you were steaming up a mirror or a pair of glasses. This is called huffing
  • Repeat this 3 or 4 times until you feel the phlegm has cleared – this may make you feel dizzy
  • Allow enough time for your breathing to become quiet
  • Keep your huffing short

Try not to breathe out for so long that you feel out of breath. If you still feel dizzy, you should stop.

You may need to do this exercise several times a day. Find a time that works for you and do the exercise when you feel that you could clear the most phlegm.

Repeat this 3 or 4 times.

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How do I keep my chest clear?

Some useful ways to keep your chest clear include:

  • Sit upright as much as you can and try out other positions if a physiotherapist has advised you
  • Take any medication you have been prescribed such as antibiotics or steroids
  • Use your inhaler if you have one
  • Drink water if you are feeling thirsty
  • Breathe in steam – fill a bowl with boiling water, put your head over the bowl, put a towel over your head and breath in the steam
  • Exercise and stay active within your energy limits

If your cough is ongoing after 4 weeks, it is important to contact your GP or primary care team in case there is another cause for your cough.

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