Having a cough once in a while is not alarming, but it can be very annoying. Having an uncontrollable urge to cough and living with a nasty itch in one’s throat is disturbing, especially when you are potentially giving a presentation, taking an exam, or have an important appointment.
Coughing is your body’s way of clearing your airway of mucus and irritants. Most coughs will resolve without treatment in two to three weeks. But if your cough lasts longer than three weeks, or you have other worrying symptoms, you should see a doctor.
What is a Chronic Cough?
A cough that lasts 8 weeks or longer in adults, or 4 weeks or longer in children, is known as a chronic cough. A chronic cough is not a disease in itself. It is a sign of another disorder. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor and find out the cause.
Causes of Chronic Cough
Some of the most common causes of chronic cough include:
- Postnasal drip. When your nose or sinuses produce extra mucus, it can drip down the back of your throat and trigger your cough reflex.
- Asthma. Chronic cough asthma is considered a classic symptom of a dry, non-productive cough, typically in association with wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD occurs when acid comes back up from a person’s stomach and into their throat. The result can be chronic irritation in the throat that leads to a cough.
- Bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis causes long term inflammation of the airways that can cause a cough. This can be a part of an airway disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that typically occurs as a side effect of smoking.
- Allergies. Allergies like hay fever can cause a chronic dry cough. If you’re sensitive to dust, pet dander, pollen, or other common allergens, then your allergy symptoms may include a cough.
- Blood pressure drugs. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which are commonly prescribed for high blood pressure and heart failure, are known to cause a chronic cough in some people.
- Lung cancer. The early symptoms of lung cancer may be a slight cough or shortness of breath, depending on which part of the lung is affected. As cancer develops, these symptoms may become more severe or intense causing a cough infection.
- Infection. Bacterial or viral pneumonia or Pertussis irritate lung tissue and cause a cough. A post-infectious cough may take 4-6 weeks to resolve.
Symptoms of Chronic Cough
A chronic cough is a symptom of an underlying health condition. An occasional cough is common. However, if a person experiences the following symptoms along with this infection, it warrants further examination by a doctor:
- Coughing up thick mucus
- Wheezing (making a whistling sound while breathing)
- A temperature (fever) higher than 101F
- Losing weight without trying
- Night sweats
- Coughing up blood
- Swollen face and hives
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
Treatment of this infection involves identifying the contributing factors and managing them with medications, lifestyle and behavioral changes. If your cough is due to allergies, your doctor can treat your allergies with medicine. If it is caused by smoking, you quit smoking. If your cough is triggered by food, avoid those foods. If your doctor believes your severe cough is due to other conditions or medicines you take, he or she can evaluate alternative options.
Effective chronic cough remedies minimize or alleviate your symptoms. If you see your doctor and get help early on, it will be easier to treat your cough.
Coughs can linger, but usually, there’s nothing to worry about. Remember, if your cough is caused by a virus, then antibiotics won’t help. Instead, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest and relaxation.
If your cough lasts longer than three weeks and you experience other worrying symptoms, visit a doctor.
Dr. Amy Schiffman, board-certified allergist and immunologist in Boca Raton, Florida, will be more than happy to speak with you to determine the most likely cause of your cough and offer a treatment plan to cure your cough.