A chronic cough is defined as one that lasts eight weeks or longer. More than simply an annoyance, a lingering cough can disrupt your sleep and affect your work. It may be accompanied by other symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, runny nose, congestion and heartburn.
If you have a persistent cough that doesn’t disappear after a reasonable amount of time, make an appointment with your physician for an evaluation.
What Causes Chronic Cough?
A cough is your body’s way of expelling a substance that is irritating the air passages. When cells lining the air passages become irritated, they trigger air in the lungs to be forced out under high pressure.
Chronic coughing can be triggered by a variety of factors. These include:
- Postnasal drip
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (includes bronchitis and emphysema)
- Pertussis (whooping cough)
- Air pollution
- ACE inhibitors (found in some medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease)
Smokers are most at risk for developing a chronic cough, as are those exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Cough?
You should contact your doctor if your cough is accompanied by fever, excessive phlegm production or blood; fails to improve after your other symptoms have disappeared; interferes with your daily activities or sleep; or you have difficulty breathing.
How Is Chronic Cough Treated?
Your doctor will discuss your medical history and give you a physical exam before administering diagnostic tests designed to determine the cause of your chronic cough. An imaging test (X-rays or CT scan), lung function test, lab tests and endoscopic tests of the trachea, nostrils and esophagus are all common.
Once the diagnosis is made, treatment can begin. If medications are prescribed, they may include:
- Asthma drugs
- Acid blockers
- Cough suppressants
Home remedies incorporating lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or adjusting your diet to eliminate foods that trigger acid reflux, can also be effective.