What Could Be Causing Your Lingering Cough

The dreaded cough: Is it allergies? Is it a tickle in your throat? Is it a respiratory illness? That is the big question that often plagues individuals who experience a persistent cough.

Everyone coughs, and while the occasional cough is not concerning, there are many acute illnesses (ranging from the common cold to pneumonia or bronchitis) that produce recurrent coughs.

A cough that accompanies an acute illness typically resolves in a few days or up to a few weeks. A chronic cough, on the other hand, is defined as one that lingers for three to eight weeks for adults or four weeks for children.

Persistent coughing can interrupt your sleep, impair your concentration and work productivity, and cause fatigue. Plus, in this new environment of highly contagious viruses, coughing can even cause social interactions to suffer. Some physical effects can result as well, including fainting, broken ribs, and urinary incontinence. 

The most common causes of a chronic cough

Unsurprisingly, smoking is the leading cause of a chronic cough. Most cigarette smokers develop a “smoker’s cough” caused by chemical irritation. Those chemicals can also lead to even more serious conditions, including emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia, and lung cancer.

However, nonsmokers can also suffer from a lingering cough caused by dozens of conditions. Most commonly, it’s caused by:

  • Postnasal Drip
  • Asthma
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Treatment with ACE Inhibitors

For nonsmokers, the first three conditions in the list (either alone or in combination) account for a vast majority of all chronic coughs.

Additional causes of long-term coughing for nonsmokers include:

  • Aspiration During Swallowing
  • Heart Failure
  • Airborne Environmental Irritants
  • Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
  • Lung Infections
  • Other Lung Diseases
  • Psychological Disorders

When is a lingering cough a concern?

While the occasional cough is not usually a concern, a chronic cough (especially if it continues to make you uncomfortable and lose sleep), should be evaluated by your primary care physician.

Additional warning symptoms could call for immediate medical care at your nearest ER Near Me. The symptoms include:

  • High or Prolonged Fever
  • Coughing Up Blood
  • Copious Phlegm Production
  • Weight Loss
  • Night Sweats
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Chest Pain (Aside From the Pain Caused By Your Cough)
  • Wheezing

Not sure if you just have a common cold? Check out our blog Treating the Common Cold and When to Visit Your Doctor for Symptoms.

What are the complications with chronic cough?

A lingering cough can be exhausting, mentally and physically. A chronic cough can cause a variety of complications, including:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep Disruption
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Passing Out
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Fractured Ribs

Diagnosing a chronic cough

Diagnosing a chronic cough can be difficult because many patients have more than one issue causing it. As such, your doctor may administer several tests to diagnose you.

For both adults and children, the answers to these questions will help your doctor evaluate your cough and determine the proper testing needed:

  • When did the coughing start?
  • What seems to trigger the cough?
  • Is the cough worse at night?
  • Is it a dry cough or does it produce mucus?

Some tests your doctor may do include lab and blood tests, imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, and nuclear testing.

Your doctor may also want to administer a scoping study, which involves an instrument that combines a long tube and a camera. The scope is then passed into certain areas of your body that might reveal the problem.

How is chronic cough treated?

Considering there could be any number of causes for your chronic cough, it’s important to meet with your doctor and talk through your options. Certain medications, injections, lifestyle changes, or therapy might be required. Your doctor will discuss a treatment plan that will be based on the cause of the cough and your specific needs.

If you are an adult with a chronic cough that lasts more than two months or if your child’s cough lasts longer than four weeks, you should contact your healthcare provider. Proper treatment will let you get back to your normal daily routine.

Don’t Wait to Seek Evaluation and Treatment

While a cough may not be anything serious, it’s important not to ignore it. If you have a chronic cough or a cough that lingers for more than a few weeks, call your primary care doctor. If your cough is accompanied by blood, fever, weight loss, night sweats, or any of the above-mentioned serious symptoms, visit your local emergency room immediately or call 911.

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