A cough that lasts longer than eight weeks or longer in adults and four weeks in children is considered chronic.
Pinpointing the cause of a chronic cough can be difficult, but the most common causes include tobacco use, asthma and postnasal drip. After treating the underlying problem, the cough typically goes away in most patients. If left untreated, chronic cough can ruin a patient’s sleep and lead to exhaustion, vomiting, lightheadedness, depression and even fractured ribs.
What is Chronic Cough?
Chronic cough is a cough that lasts for eight or more weeks in adults and four weeks or more in children. A chronic cough is typically a symptom of an underlying condition.
Chronic cough may occur in conjunction with other symptoms. Some of the most common include:
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- A feeling of liquid running down the back of the through
- Coughing up blood
A patient should see a doctor if they are coughing up sputum or blood, have been coughing for eight or more weeks, or have a cough that disturbs their sleep or affects their work.
Letting chronic cough fester can lead to more serious issues. If left untreated, chronic cough can lead to:
- Disturbed sleep
- Excessive sweating
- Fractured ribs
- Bruised eyes
What Causes Chronic Cough?
Chronic cough can be caused by a variety of underlying problems, making it somewhat difficult to pinpoint exact causes. Being a current or former smoker or frequently being exposed to secondhand smoke are some of the most common risk factors for chronic cough. Women are more likely to develop chronic cough because they tend to have more sensitive cough reflexes.
Some of the causes of chronic cough include:
- Postnasal drip. When the sinuses produce extra mucus, it can drip down the back of the throat triggering the cough reflex.
- Asthma. This cough can be a result of a specific season, an upper respiratory tract infection, contact with cold air or contact with certain chemicals or fragrances.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Also known as acid reflux, This occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the stomach to the throat, causing irritation.
- Infections. A cough can accompany a cold influenza, pneumonia, whooping cough and other respiratory tract infections.
- Chronic bronchitis. Typically seen in former smokers, this occurs when long-standing inflammation of the major airways causes congestion, breathlessness, wheezing and coughing.
Less common causes of chronic cough include:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Congestive heart failure
- Lung cancer
- Foreign body aspiration (most often seen in children)
What are the Treatment Options for Chronic Cough?
The underlying cause of chronic cough will determine the recommended treatment option.
For allergies and postnasal drip, decongestants and antihistamines may be prescribed. Inhaled asthma drugs are typically the best treatment option for asthma-related coughs. If the cough is caused by an infection, an antibiotic may help. If lifestyle changes don’t relieve acid reflux, medication that blocks acid production can sometimes help.