Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors

"How can one get rid of a viral cough?"


If I have a cough that's caused by a virus, what can I do to get rid of it? I've had this cough since spending time with a friend who definitely had a viral cough himself, and I am wondering if I should go to the hospital and get an antibiotic.


Getting rid of a chronic cough is a difficult problem. It is also fairly common. If you are continuing to have a cough or feeling shortness of breath I strongly encourage you to see your doctor.

See a doctor who can help

Find a Primary care-doctors near you

Firstly, making the diagnosis of what is causing your cough is important. Viruses can cause a cough. This can be in the acute setting such as the common cold or upper respiratory infection (URI). People can also get post-viral bronchitis--which means the inflammation lasts after the virus and therefore the cough continues. Unfortunately, there is no actual treatment for this. Antibiotics work to kill bacteria, not viruses. In fact antibiotics can worsen some viral infections. If you are confident this is from a virus then antibiotics are not appropriate. There are other medicines that can help to your doctor. There are some conditions that require antibiotics. Pertussis or whooping cough can cause a long lasting cough that can be treated with antibiotics. So can pneumonias and they require urgent antibiotics. Unfortunately, diagnosing what causes the cough is hard. There are many causes of chronic cough. Asthma is a common one that often does not present with wheezing as in most people, but just a cough. Acid reflux can also cause a cough commonly. Allergies or post nasal drip can also cause a cough. Smoking or other irritants also cause chronic cough. I encourage you to talk to your doctor to make the diagnosis as well as start treatment if appropriate.

Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.