Chronic Cough

Definition

Chronic cough — one lasting eight weeks or longer — is more than just an annoyance. A chronic cough can ruin your sleep and leave you feeling exhausted. Severe cases of chronic cough can result in vomiting, rib fractures and light headedness.

While it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the problem that’s triggering your chronic cough, the most common causes are tobacco use, postnasal drip, asthma and acid reflux — the backflow of stomach acid, which can irritate your throat.

Symptoms

A chronic cough can occur with other signs and symptoms, which may include:A runny or stuffy nose A sensation of liquid running down the back of your throat,Wheezing and shortness of breath,Heartburn or a sour taste in your mouth,In rare cases, coughing up blood

When to see a doctor


See your doctor if you have a cough that lingers, especially one that brings up sputum or blood, disturbs your sleep or affects your work.

Causes

An occasional cough is normal — it helps clear foreign substances and secretions from your lungs and prevents infection. But a cough that persists for long periods of time is usually the result of an underlying problem. Examples 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: An asthma-related cough may come and go with the seasons, appear after an upper respiratory tract infection, or become worse when you’re exposed to cold air or certain chemicals or fragrances. This type of asthma is frequently referred to as hyperactive airways disease.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): In this common condition, stomach acid flows back into the tube that connects your stomach and throat (esophagus). The constant irritation can lead to chronic coughing.

Imaging Tests

  • X-rays: Although a routine chest X-ray won’t reveal the most common reasons for a cough — postnasal drip, acid reflux or asthma — it may be used to check for lung cancer and other lung diseases. An X-ray of your sinuses may reveal evidence of a sinus infection.
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan): A CT scan takes X-rays from many different angles and then combines them to form cross-sectional images. This technique can provide more-detailed views of your lungs, but it’s not a routine exam in the initial evaluation of a chronic cough. CT scans may also be used to check your sinus cavities for pockets of infection.