When you develop a cough, you usually attribute it to seasonal changes, allergies, or a fleeting cold. While this is often true, a persistent cough that lingers for several weeks isn’t something you should ignore — it could be a red flag signaling a more severe underlying health issue.
At Allergy & Asthma Clinic of Maryland in Silver Spring, Maryland, Dr. Vasif Kalfa and our team specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions that cause chronic coughs.
As a board-certified allergist and immunologist who’s committed to identifying the root cause of chronic cough and other symptoms, Dr. Kalfa develops individualized treatment plans for patients in and around Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, and Bethesda, Maryland, as well as the greater Washington DC area.
Read on as Dr. Kalfa explains why you shouldn’t ignore a chronic cough.
What is a long-lasting cough?
Generally, a cough lasting more than eight weeks in adults, and four weeks or longer in children, is considered chronic and requires medical attention.
While coughs stemming from common colds or allergies are acute and typically resolve within a week or two, a chronic cough might indicate something more serious. It's crucial to distinguish between these two types of coughs to determine when you might need medical intervention.
Coughing isn't random; it's a complex reflex involving various muscles and nerves. A cough begins when irritants stimulate nerve endings within the lining of your respiratory tract.
This sensory information then travels to your brain, which, in turn, sends signals to your chest and airway muscles to force air out of the lungs and remove the irritant.
Reasons not to ignore a long-lasting cough
In many cases, a long-lasting cough indicates an underlying medical issue. Some of the conditions connected to chronic coughs include:
A chronic cough is often a symptom of a respiratory disorder. Conditions like asthma, chronic bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) could be the culprits.
These are not conditions that improve on their own; they require medical evaluation and ongoing treatment. Left untreated, they can progress and lead to severe respiratory distress, significantly impacting your quality of life.
A chronic cough can also indicate a cardiovascular issue, including congestive heart failure, a condition that compromises your heart's ability to pump blood effectively. This could lead to fluid collecting around your lungs, causing a chronic cough, shortness of breath, and edema (leg or abdominal swelling).
Tuberculosis and whooping cough are examples of infections that can cause chronic coughs. Both conditions are highly infectious and can spread rapidly. An accurate diagnosis is essential not only for your health, but also for public safety. A fungal infection can also lead to a chronic cough. While not infectious to others, leaving this type of infection untreated for too long can result in the need to remove part of the affected lung.
Gastrointestinal issues such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can manifest as a persistent cough. With this disorder, stomach acid flows back into your esophagus, irritating the delicate lining and triggering a cough reflex. Ignoring this ongoing cough can lead to other issues, including esophageal damage and dental decay.
Why an accurate diagnosis is crucial
A chronic cough isn't a condition but a symptom. Treating it effectively requires a proper diagnosis to pinpoint the underlying cause. To get to the bottom of your problem, we carry out a comprehensive evaluation, which involves:
- A comprehensive review of your medical history
- A complete physical examination
- A series of diagnostic tests (i.e., lung function tests, chest X-rays, CT scans)
Ignoring a long-lasting cough can have serious repercussions, ranging from respiratory complications to cardiovascular issues. The bottom line is that if you have a cough that’s been troubling you for an extended period, don't delay — seek expert evaluation and care as soon as possible.
To learn more, call Allergy & Asthma Clinic of Maryland in Silver Spring, Maryland, today — or book an appointment online any time.