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What Should I Do if I Have a Chronic Cough?

Chronic Cough: Causes and Treatment

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Dayton Respiratory Center

Oct 26 2022

5 mins read

Sometimes coughing makes you feel better; it helps you get rid of that tickle in your throat or clear out your airways.

But coughing can also be miserable — especially if it persists for a long time. A chronic cough makes it difficult to sleep, breathe, speak, exercise...the list goes on.

Nobody wants to deal with that forever.

If you have a chronic cough, here's what you should do.

What Is a Chronic Cough?

A chronic cough is a cough that does not go away. It lasts for more than eight weeks in adults and more than four weeks in children.

Chronic coughs can be annoying! They interrupt your sleep, restrict your breathing, and get in the way of your daily activities.

So how do you get rid of a chronic cough?

Well, first, you need to identify the underlying cause.

What Causes a Chronic Cough?

Coughing is the body's way of pushing irritants out of your airways or throat.

Chronic cough can be caused due to one or more of the following factors:

Postnasal drip

Postnasal drip is when mucus from your nose flows down into your throat. This causes throat irritation and makes you cough.

Postnasal drip commonly affects people with allergies, rhinitis, colds, and sinusitis.

<p>Postnasal Drip | Source: NorthShore</p>


Asthma-related coughs are very common. They can appear during seasonal changes, after respiratory infections, or after exposure to cold air or irritants.

Some people have a type of asthma called cough-variant asthma — where coughing is the only symptom.

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

COPD usually develops due to smoking. It causes inflammation and mucus build-up in the airways — which obstructs your airways and makes you cough.

<p>COPD | Source: RUDRAX</p>


If you've had a respiratory infection such as pneumonia or the flu — you might have a cough that persists long after the infection subsides.

Chronic coughs can also be caused by bacterial infections — like pertussis (aka whooping cough).

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

GERD — also known as acid reflux — is a condition where stomach acids enter the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter. The acidity irritates your esophagus/throat and causes a persistent cough.

While GERD leads to chronic cough, the coughing ends up making your acid reflux worse. It's a repeating cycle.

<p>GERD | Source: Prevention</p>

Note: With GERD, you may also experience heartburn and a sour taste in your mouth. Watch out for other symptoms if you suspect acid reflux is the source of your chronic cough.

Certain Drugs

Some medications — like ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors for high blood pressure — might cause a chronic cough in some patients.

Other Common Causes

Some less common factors that can cause chronic cough include:

  • Bronchiectasis — damage and widening of the airways leading to mucus build-up
  • Cystic fibrosis — a genetic disorder that causes cells to produce thick mucus secretions
  • Lung cancer
  • Eosinophilic bronchitis — an airway inflammation similar to asthma
  • Sarcoidosis — growth of inflammatory cells in any part of your body, including the lungs
  • Pulmonary fibrosis — scarring of the lungs due to unknown reasons

How Is the Underlying Cause of a Chronic Cough Diagnosed?

We now know that several factors can cause a chronic cough.

To determine the exact reason for your chronic cough, your doctor will perform a physical examination and recommend tests depending on your symptoms.

Some tests that help diagnose chronic coughs include:

  • X-Ray or CT Scan — checks for pneumonia or cancer
  • Pulmonary function test — determines how well your lungs take in and expel air
  • Acid-reflux test — measures the amount of acid in the esophagus
  • Endoscopy — helps your doctor to view the inside of your body (i.e., your esophagus, lungs, stomach and small intestine)

How Is Chronic Cough Treated?

Treatment for chronic cough depends on the underlying cause. Once your doctor diagnoses the exact reason, they can provide the proper treatment.

Here are some treatment approaches for various conditions:

Treatments for Postnatal Drip

If your chronic cough is caused by postnatal drip, your doctor will recommend decongestants, antihistamines or steroids to dry up or stop the secretions.

Treatments for Asthma

Asthma symptoms can be relieved with doctor-prescribed medications. These usually include steroids and bronchodilators. These medications open up your airways, ease breathing and reduce your cough.

Treatments for COPD

The first step in treating COPD is to quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke. Your doctor might also prescribe medications like anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators.

If your blood oxygen levels are low, your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy to prevent blood oxygen from dropping to dangerously low levels.

Treatments for Infections

Chronic coughs due to infections can be treated with antibiotics. These medications help cure the infection and reduce cough symptoms.

Treatments for GERD

Acid reflux can be treated with medications that neutralize acid production.

Your doctor may also recommend some lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Avoiding foods that increase acid reflux
  • Avoiding lying down immediately after eating
  • Lying with your head elevated
  • Eating healthy to maintain your weight
  • Quitting smoking

Treatments for ACE Inhibitors

If you have a mild cough, your doctor may tell you to stay on your medication or switch to a different ACE inhibitor.

If you have a severe cough, you can try another type of antihypertensive medication.


Chronic coughs last more than eight weeks in adults and more than four weeks in children.

In most cases, they're caused by allergies or asthma, but they may also indicate a different underlying health condition.

Consult your doctor about your chronic cough. They can diagnose the underlying cause and suggest helpful treatments. An early diagnosis offers you the best chances of finding a cure and prevents further damage to your respiratory system.

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