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Subacute cough

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

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The first step in management is to identify whether the cough preceded an obvious respiratory infection (1).

Post-infectious cough may result from

  • postnasal drip
  • upper airway irritation
  • mucus accumulation
  • a manifestation of bronchial hyperresponsiveness that may be associated with asthma
  • pneumonia
  • an acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis (1).

Infections such as pertussis (whooping cough) should also be considered.

Suspect pertussis in a patient:

  • with an acute cough lasting for 14 days or more with at least one of the following symptoms, post-tussive vomiting, apnoea or whoop
  • who has cough for any duration and who has been in contact with a confirmed case of pertussis in the preceding 3 weeks (2)

If the subacute cough is not preceded by an obvious respiratory infection it should be regarded as a chronic cough and should be evaluated and managed accordingly (1).


  1. Pratter MR, et al. An empiric integrative approach to the management of cough: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2006;129(1 Suppl):222S-231S
  2. Dodhia H et al. UK guidelines for use of erythromycin chemoprophylaxis in persons exposed to pertussis. J Public Health Med. 2002;24(3):200-6

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