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Nagging cough? Skip the antibiotic and get some sleep

Filed in
  • Immune System

By Thomas Heffron  |  Jan 14, 2013
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Is your nagging cough causing sleepless nights and aggravating co-workers during the day?  Be patient.  A new study shows that your cough may last longer than you expect.

But don’t ask your doctor for an antibiotic.  Instead, get some extra sleep.

The study examined how long a cough lasts.  The results were published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

The research involved an analysis of 19 studies of “acute cough illness.”  This included bronchitis, respiratory tract infections and chest colds.  The total study sample consisted of 1,230 patients.

Results show that the mean duration of a cough was almost 18 days.  The researchers decided to compare these results with public expectations.

So they surveyed nearly 500 adults in Georgia.  Participants were asked how long they expect a cough to last.  The average response was only about seven to nine days.

The authors suggest that this mismatch may explain why too many people ask for an antibiotic when they have a nagging cough.  Doctors can help by setting realistic expectations.  They should explain to patients that a cough can last for two to three weeks.

The CDC explains that a cold is a viral infection.  But antibiotics treat bacterial infections.  They have no effect on viral infections.

So what should you do instead?   The CDC advises you to get plenty of rest.  Sleep can help your body recover from a cold.  It also can help prevent you from getting sick in the first place.

The CDC also suggests using a clean humidifier when you have a cough.  The soothing, “white noise” of the machine also may help you sleep better.


  1. 1 Susan 04 Feb
    I’ve had the exact same experience only mine started almost two years ago! All tests came back normal. I did have a super bad case of mono as a teenager, and it makes me wonder if this sleep-associated cough is tied to the Epstein bar virus.
  2. 2 Matt 16 Jan
    Kelly’s comment resonates with me. I have the EXACT same experience. 
  3. 3 Kelly 21 Dec
    I have a chronic recurring cough that always appears or gets worse when I don't get enough sleep. And it always stays around for several months. Right now I've been coughing since August!
    I've tried everything - acid reflux diet and medication, asthma medication, allergy medication, nothing helps. Chest Xrays are normal, no doctor knows what's wrong with me that I won't stop coughing. The only thing that's helped are steroids.
    Any studies on cases like mine? I can find no information about lack of sleep contributing to such a long lasting cough.
  4. 4 Ben 13 Nov
    Thought the same thing!
  5. 5 Matthew Henderson 30 Nov
    If you can't sleep to begin with, how are you supposed to get extra sleep?