With causes like acid reflux and asthma, a persistant cough may be more.

With causes like acid reflux and asthma, a persistant cough may be more.

We've all experienced a cough from time to time. Whether it's caused by a cold or simply a tickle in the throat, it can be quite an annoyance.  But what about coughs that don't seem to go away?

About Chronic Cough

A chronic cough is a cough that lasts more than eight weeks in adults or four weeks in children. It can ruin a good night's sleep, leaving you exhausted by day. It can disrupt everything from having a casual conversation to taking in a movie at the theater. In severe cases, fits of coughing can lead to vomiting, lightheadedness, and even affect emotional health and well being.

If you're experiencing a chronic cough, chances are good it's a symptom of an underlying problem. 

Common Causes of Chronic Cough

While numerous health and environmental issues can trigger a cough, the most common conditions that cause chronic cough include:

Postnasal drip: Excess mucus production caused by allergies, sinus infections, sinusitis, deviated septum or certain medications may cause sore throats, a constant need to clear the throat, and coughing. It's the most common cause of chronic coughs, and it is often worse at night.

Treatments vary according on the condition. Decongestants, antibiotics (bacterial infections), prescription nasal sprays and the newer generation of antihistamines are all possible options. Older antihistamines may not be the best choice (Benadryl and chlorpheniramine) because when they dry the mucus, they also thicken it. 

Tobacco use: A smoker's cough is known for the chronic hacking sound it produces. Smoking damages the little hair-like cells called cilia that line the airway and are meant to catch toxins and move them out toward the mouth. Once cilia are unable to do their job, toxins enter the lungs and create inflammation and coughing. Unfortunately, this same coughing also may be the first symptom of COPD or lung cancer.

The only truly effective treatment is quitting smoking.  Initially, the cough may worsen as the healed cilia start working again, but after several months, the coughing should improve.  Drinking plenty of water, using lozenges, elevating your head at night, taking a spoon full of honey and exercising regularly may also help. It's important to monitor your symptoms and report any changes to your physician, including wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, hoarseness and weight loss, because these could be red flags of serious health issues.

Cough-variant asthma: Any form of asthma can cause chronic cough, but with cough-variant asthma, chronic cough is the only symptom. The cough is often dry and does not produce mucus. It is often triggered by exercise or exposure to environmental factors, such as a strong fragrance, cold air or dust. It may eventually develop into classic asthma with symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath.

A proper diagnosis from your healthcare provider is key in treating cough-variant asthma, as well as all types of asthma.  Prescription inhalers, including emergency and daily use ones, will often relieve symptoms.

 Gastroesophageal reflux disease: GERD is a very common cause of a persistent cough; in fact, one study found it's responsible for as much as 25% of chronic coughs. If you are experiencing a nonproductive daytime cough that isn't caused by common triggers (such as smoking, asthma, or postnasal drip), GERD may be the culprit.

Treating a GERD-related cough starts with treating GERD.  Often, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) will relieve the cough after a period of three months or so.  Some people find lasting relief through surgery. It is important to manage GERD, because if it's left untreated, it can lead to other complications, including esophageal cancer.

Getting Answers

These are just a few of the many potential causes of chronic cough. 

If you are suffering from persistent coughing, take note of your symptoms, possible triggers, and when it's occurring and discuss it with your provider. Pinpointing the cuase will lead the way to full health.