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Coughing helps the body fight illness and is nothing to worry about if it lasts for a few days. However, months of chronic coughing interfere with daily life including school, work, and social activities. Postnasal drip, acid reflux, asthma, and lingering infections are the main causes of chronic cough in both children and adults.

Consulting a medical professional is the best way to diagnose and treat the underlying problem, ultimately relieving chronic cough. For many decades, Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center has helped patients with chronic cough breathe, live, and thrive through quality care.

Table of Contents

What Is Chronic Cough?

An occasional cough is normal, even necessary, to clear microbes from the lungs. Other times, coughing is the result of a short-term illness and lets up after a few days or weeks. This helps prevent infection and inflammation.

A chronic cough, however, is one that lasts for eight weeks or longer and can even take years to go away. In children, a cough lasting four or more weeks is defined as chronic. This threshold ensures that the cough is likely not due to a cold or respiratory infection.

Chronic Cough Symptoms

As the name suggests, a frequent cough that lasts for months is the most prominent symptom of chronic cough. This cough can be wet and produce phlegm or dry and irritate the throat. Depending on the cause, chronic cough can result in other symptoms including:

  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Heartburn
  • Hoarseness
  • Postnasal drip
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Wheezing

woman suffering from chronic cough

Causes of Chronic Cough

Chronic cough is one of the most common reasons for seeing a doctor, resulting from many different causes. The main causes behind chronic cough include infection, asthma, acid reflux, and postnasal drip.

Many infections, such as COPD or chronic bronchitis, cause long-term inflammation of the airways. Even after other symptoms go away, this lingering irritation causes a cough.

Similarly, asthma causes the upper airways to become sensitive to changing temperatures, certain chemicals, or other triggers. Extra mucus from post nasal drip or stomach acid from acid reflux can also result in throat irritation.

While most causes of chronic cough are easily treatable, it can also be the sign of more severe conditions such as:

  • Blood pressure medication side-effects
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Heart failure
  • Lung cancer
  • Pertussis
  • Pneumonia
  • Sinus infection
  • Tuberculosis

Chronic Cough Risk Factors

Smoking is one of the leading risk factors, including secondhand smoke. Smoking irritates the throat, causes lung damage, and leads to underlying conditions.

Other vulnerable patient groups include those with a weakened immune system, who are obese or pregnant. These conditions weaken the esophagus and increase the likelihood of acid.

In addition, factory and laboratory workers face higher exposure to chemicals that irritate the lungs.

Diagnosing Chronic Cough

Determining the cause behind chronic cough is the first step for effective treatment. Your physician will use your physical exam, medical history, lifestyle habits, and symptoms to help make a diagnosis.

A pulmonologist or allergist who specializes in lung disorders is the most qualified to identify the underlying condition behind your chronic cough. At Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center, our board-certified medical professionals are specially trained in diagnosing and treating lung and gastrointestinal conditions.

Diagnostic Tests for Chronic Cough

Your physician may order a variety of diagnostic tests to identify the underlying ailment. These include imaging and lung function tests.

Pulmonary function tests look at how your lungs are functioning and can identify lung conditions. During a spirometry test, the doctor measures how much air your lungs can hold and how hard you can exhale.

Imaging tests, such as x-rays and CT scans, are used to inspect your lungs, throat, and overall respiratory system. These help the doctor diagnose lung diseases, sinus infections, pneumonia, and even signs of cancer.

Diagnosing Chronic Cough in Children

Like adults, chronic cough in children can be produced by almost any respiratory disorder. Chest x-rays and spirometry tests are non-invasive and will ultimately help your child find relief. The experienced physicians at Carolina Allergy and Asthma Center are skilled at working with patients of all ages and their caregivers.

Complications of Chronic Cough

While chronic cough is irritating, it can become a bigger problem if it starts to interfere with daily life. It is difficult to concentrate or sleep if you are frequently coughing. This is exhausting and can lead to further complications such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Fractured ribs
  • Headaches
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Vomiting

man seeing doctor for his chronic cough

When to See a Doctor About Chronic Cough

After eight weeks, you should see a healthcare provider to thoroughly examine the cause of your chronic cough. The symptoms will not go away until the underlying cause is treated.

In extreme cases, a lingering cough can be a sign of a more serious ailment. It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • High fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of sleep
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

Chronic Cough Treatments

Chronic cough treatment will depend on the cause of your cough. Cough suppressants and over-the-counter medications will help relieve the most common symptoms. Extra care should be used when providing cough and cold medicine for children.

Besides cough medicine, other over-the-counter and prescription medications can be used to treat underlying causes from asthma to acid reflux. These medicines ultimately relieve lung irritation and help you breathe more easily.

Depending on the cause, your doctor will provide the appropriate antihistamine, decongestant, asthma steroid, antibiotic, or antacid.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies for Chronic Cough

Along with medications, there are home remedies that can relieve the symptoms of chronic cough.

  • A popular home remedy for loosening coughs is honey.
  • Drinking warm fluids can help to thin out mucus and soothe the throat.
  • Similarly, saline nasal spray or irrigation can help drain the mucus that is making you cough.
  • Moisturizing the air using a humidifier or steamy shower can also help relieve sore throats.

For certain conditions, lifestyle changes can lessen lung irritation and reduce chronic cough. Smoking, including exposure to secondhand smoke, can harm the lungs and worsen any cough. Your physician can direct you to programs or products to quit smoking.

Acid reflux and the resulting cough can be limited by making a few lifestyle changes. Certain foods and drinks make symptoms worse such as alcohol, caffeine, fried treats, and fatty foods. Eating several small meals each day and not eating before bed will help prevent acid reflux.

Outlook for Chronic Cough

Most causes for chronic cough can be treated effectively by your physician through medication, home remedies, and lifestyle changes. Minor symptoms can be managed with proper hydration and adhering to your treatment plan. A chronic cough will typically disappear once the underlying problem is addressed.

Why Choose Charlotte Asthma and Allergy Center for Chronic Cough?

Although coughing is an unavoidable part of life, chronic cough doesn’t have to be. A medical professional will help diagnose and ultimately treat the underlying cause, whether it is acid reflux, postnasal drip, asthma, an infection, or something more serious. While frequent coughing is annoying, it can be resolved with a targeted approach.

Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center is the largest practice made up entirely of board-certified physicians in the area. Our dedicated professionals are experienced with treating chronic cough in patients of all ages throughout Charlotte, NC. For almost 70 years, Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center has been committed to providing quality care and expertise.

Contact our team of trained allergists and asthma specialists to set up an appointment and find relief from chronic cough.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Know If My Cough Is Serious?

Your cough is serious if you experience chest pain, coughing up blood, difficulty breathing, fainting, fever, or vomiting. While coughing is a natural part of your body’s response to infection, these signs indicate that something more serious is going on. Seek a doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

What Is a Chronic Dry Cough?

A chronic dry cough is one that lasts for longer than eight weeks and does not produce any mucus. In children, chronic dry coughs present similarly but are diagnosed after four weeks. This is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as asthma or GERD. Along with phlegm, dry coughs can bring up blood when something more serious is going on.

Why Do I Keep Coughing Even Though I’m Not Sick?

Even if you are not currently sick, there are many conditions that can cause of a lingering cough. Besides infection, most coughs are the result of postnasal drip, asthma, acid reflux, or blood pressure medication. A physician can use your medical history and diagnostic tests to pinpoint the reason behind your cough.

Is It Normal to Have a Cough That Won’t Go Away?

A cough that won’t go away is a sign that something is wrong in your body, but it can be fixed. Chronic cough lasting longer than eight weeks is usually due to an underlying disease that must be treated before the cough will go away. Evaluation by a doctor will inform you on the next steps to take for proper treatment.