A cough is considered chronic when it persists for eight weeks or longer. In children, a cough that lasts four weeks or longer is considered chronic. Chronic cough is much more common than you may think, affecting up to 20% of people in the United States at any given time. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons people visit their health care providers.
You shouldn’t ignore a chronic cough. It could be a sign of an underlying health condition or a medical problem that requires treatment, so professional evaluation and care are essential.
As a board-certified allergist and immunologist, Dr. Vasif Kalfa provides expert diagnosis and treatment for chronic cough and related conditions at Allergy & Asthma Clinic of Maryland in Silver Spring, Maryland. Here, he explores five of the most frequent causes of this all-too common symptom.
Chronic cough symptoms
A chronic cough may be dry, productive, barking, or wheezing. Other symptoms that may occur along with a long-standing cough include:
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Sore throat; hoarseness
- Postnasal drip; frequent throat clearing
- Heartburn; sour taste in your mouth
- Coughing up phlegm (mucus)
- Shortness of breath; wheezing
Less commonly, a chronic cough may be accompanied by a low-grade fever or cause you to expel blood.
Common causes of chronic cough
Many underlying health conditions can trigger a chronic cough. Five of the most common include:
Asthma is a condition that inflames and narrows the airways in your lungs, causing chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and often, a persistent cough. Certain types of asthma, such as cough-variant asthma, are more likely to trigger a chronic cough.
Respiratory infections like the flu, COVID-19, bronchitis, and pneumonia can cause a cough. Sometimes, this cough can linger and become chronic, even when the infection has cleared. A chronic cough could also indicate other serious pulmonary infections like tuberculosis.
When excess mucus gathers in your nose and sinus cavity, it can drip down the back of your throat. This is what’s referred to as postnasal drip. This condition can cause chronic cough along with a sore throat, hoarseness, nausea, and bad breath.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
When stomach acid flows upward into your throat (esophagus), it causes a condition called GERD. This uncomfortable problem frequently triggers symptoms such as heartburn, bad breath, and chronic cough. A GERD-related cough is a product of stomach acid irritation in your esophagus.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
One of the most telling signs of COPD is a chronic cough. COPD, which affects long-time smokers most often, causes an obstruction to the airflow in your lungs that creates breathing difficulties.
Treatment for chronic cough
Treatment for chronic cough depends on its underlying cause. This is why it’s critical to consult with Dr. Kalfa to get to the root of the problem. Sometimes, more than one condition could be contributing to your symptoms.
Dr. Kalfa may prescribe medication to alleviate your cough. Antihistamines help you deal with allergies or postnasal drip, while antibiotics can help you clear a bacterial infection.
Have a cough that won’t go away? Dr. Kalfa and our team at Allergy & Asthma Clinic of Maryland can help. At our office in Silver Spring, Maryland, we serve patients from in and around Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, and Bethesda, Maryland, as well as residents of the Washington D.C. area. Call 240-332-8010 or click online to schedule a visit today.