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Does Chronic Cough Mean I Have COVID?

What You Need to Know About COVID and Chronic Coughs

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Dayton Respiratory Center

Sep 30 2022

3 mins read

The pandemic has changed the way we look at things.

In the past, sneezing in public wasn't a big deal. But now, it instantly draws attention to you.

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, so does misinformation about the virus. One of the most common questions people ask is whether or not they should be worried if they develop a chronic cough.

Let's find out if a chronic cough signals COVID.

Why Do We Cough?

Coughing is your body's natural way of getting rid of foreign substances or excess mucus. It helps clear your airways and lungs.

Coughing is a common symptom of many respiratory illnesses — including the common cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, and COVID. It can also be a symptom of some non-respiratory illnesses, such as heartburn and GERD.

While coughing once in a while is healthy, a persistent cough — or one that causes discolored or bloody mucus — can indicate a serious underlying condition.

Is Coughing a Sign of COVID-19?

Yes, coughing is one of the symptoms of COVID. But as we just learned, COVID isn't the only reason a person coughs.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It primarily affects the respiratory system.

The symptoms of COVID vary for each person. For example, some people need to be hospitalized, while others don't have any symptoms at all. Symptom severity also differs depending on the virus strain.

However, the most common symptoms of COVID include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Breathlessness
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell

A COVID-related cough is usually characterized as "dry," meaning it doesn't produce any mucus or phlegm. It's typically accompanied by at least one other symptom.

So, coughing does not automatically mean you have COVID.

Do I Have COVID if I Have a Chronic Cough?

Not necessarily.

COVID can cause various respiratory symptoms (including a cough), but it's not the only reason you might develop a cough.

A persistent or chronic cough lasts for more than eight weeks and has several potential causes:

  • Allergies — Seasonal triggers or irritants get inside the lungs and aggravate the airways
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) — Obstruction in the airways due to inflammation or mucus build-up, making breathing difficult
  • Asthma — Airways tighten and trap mucus, which makes it harder to breathe
  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) — Stomach acid enters the esophagus irritating the esophageal lining
  • Bronchiectasis — Airways get damaged and widen, inhibiting the removal of mucus and resulting in infection and cough

How Do I Know if My Cough Is Due to COVID or Not?

COVID cough is different from a normal cough.

If you have COVID, you'll usually have a dry cough (aka a "barking cough"). You'll also likely experience other COVID symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash on the skin
  • Discoloration of fingers or toes
  • Red/irritated eyes
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of speech or mobility
  • Confusion

If your cough pairs with any of the above symptoms, isolate yourself and get tested for COVID.

  • If you test positive — self-isolate, inform your doctor, get plenty of rest, and stay hydrated
  • If you test negative — your chronic cough could be due to another underlying health condition. Consult your doctor to diagnose the reason and seek treatment.


Though COVID-19 can cause a persistent cough, not all chronic coughs are due to COVID; there might be other reasons.

If you develop a chronic cough, look for other symptoms of COVID to determine if COVID is the cause. Get tested and seek medical help, especially if your cough persists or you see discolored mucus.

If you test negative, consult your doctor. Your doctor can help diagnose the cause of your chronic cough and provide an effective treatment.

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