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Chronic Cough

Chronic Cough

A chronic cough is a cough that persists for eight weeks or longer in adults or four weeks or longer in children. Although coughing is a common symptom of many illnesses that affect the lungs and airways, a chronic cough cannot always be linked to a specific disease and often does not respond to initial treatments.

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Causes of Chronic Cough

The most common chronic cough causes are:

Other less common causes of chronic cough include:

Chronic Cough Symptoms

Ways to Manage a Chronic Cough Throat Clearing and All That Mucous

If you are plagued with nasal allergies, voice changes, a nagging cough or sticky mucus, you won’t want to miss this health talk.

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In addition to persistent coughing, other symptoms that may accompany a chronic cough include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Feeling of mucus gathering and dripping down the back of the throat (postnasal drip)
  • Frequent throat clearing and sore throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Heartburn and sour taste in mouth
  • Rarely, coughing up blood

Complications of Chronic Cough

A long-lasting cough can cause a number of health problems, including:

  • Sleep disruption and associated exhaustion
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Excessive sweating
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Changes in voice
  • Fractured ribs
  • Fainting

When to Call the Doctor

A cough caused by an infection or exposure to allergens or common irritants will usually clear up within a few weeks. Make an appointment with a healthcare provider if your cough lasts longer than three weeks or is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Thick mucus that is green or yellow in color
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you experience a cough that lasts six weeks or longer, we suggest you follow up with a primary care doctor even if you previously visited a doctor as a result of getting sick. A primary care doctor may then refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

Seek emergency care if you develop a cough that is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever
  • Skin turning pale or blue
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Confusion

How Is Chronic Cough Diagnosed?

To diagnose a chronic cough and determine its cause, your healthcare provider will conduct a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms. They may also order diagnostic tests, which could include:

  • Imaging tests such as chest X-rays, MRI and CT scans, ultrasound and nuclear testing.
  • Lab tests, including a throat swab or blood sample to see if bacteria are present in your phlegm or blood, respectively.
  • Spirometry or other lung function tests, which measure how well your lung work. Spirometry measures the amount and/or speed of air you can inhale and exhale.

How to Stop Coughing?

Treatment for chronic cough depends on the cause. Your doctor will recommend a treatment plan tailored to your unique needs. Depending on the cause of your cough, your treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Nasal sprays to alleviate runny nose, sneezing and other allergy symptoms.
  • Decongestants, antihistamines or corticosteroids for the relief of postnasal drip.
  • Steroids or inhaled bronchodilators to reduce airway inflammation caused by asthma.
  • Antibiotics for pneumonia, sinusitis, bronchitis and other bacterial, fungal and mycobacterial infections.
  • Avoiding certain foods to reduce the occurrence of GERD.
  • Acid blockers to block acid production in people with GERD.