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What is chronic cough?

Chronic cough is usually defined as a cough that lasts more than eight weeks. Chronic cough is one of the most frequent reasons for visits to the doctor. Chronic cough is not a disease itself. It is a health problem that results from other health conditions.

What are some of the health problems that cause chronic cough?

Chronic cough is usually caused by these health problems:

  • Smoking: Smoking is the number one cause of chronic cough.
  • Asthma:This is the second most frequent cause of chronic cough. Shortness of breath and wheezing are byproducts of asthma. These breathing difficulties can result in a chronic cough. On the other hand, chronic cough may be the only symptom of asthma.
  • Acid reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Symptoms of GERD include heartburn, chest pain, wheezing and shortness of breath. Irritation caused by these symptoms can lead to chronic cough.
  • Sinusitis and post nasal drip: Frequent sinus infections can cause post-nasal drip, (sometimes called “a tickle in the back of the throat”), and drainage can trigger chronic cough. The “tickle” occurs when a larger-than-normal amount of mucus runs down the back of the throat.
  • Allergies: Chronic cough can result from inhaling dust, pollen, pet dander, chemical/industrial fumes (over many years), molds, freshly cut grass, and other irritants.
  • Bronchitis: Inflammation (swelling) of these airway passages can cause shortness of breath and wheezing and result in chronic cough.
  • Upper respiratory infections: Lengthy bouts of colds, the flu, pneumonia or other infections can lead to the development of chronic cough. Whooping cough (pertussis) occurs more commonly in infants and young children.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): This is a lung condition that occurs most often in smokers. It is caused by a build-up of mucus in the lungs, which the body tries to clear by coughing. COPD includes the related conditions, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
  • High blood pressure drugs: ACE inhibitors are a specific category of drugs used to treat high blood pressure. A side effect of these drugs is chronic cough. Some common ACE inhibitors are lisinopril (Prinivil®, Zestril®), enalapril (Vasotec®), peridopril (Aceon®), captopril, (Capoten®), and ramiparil (Altace®)
  • Lung or other airway cancers: Rarely, chronic cough can be a sign of either a lung cancer or cancer in the upper airway.

What are the symptoms of chronic cough?

Often, the cough itself is the only symptom of chronic cough.

Other symptoms can include:

  • A runny/stuffy nose.
  • Post-nasal drip (‘tickle' in the back of the throat).
  • Wheezing/shortness of breath.
  • Weight loss without any effort.
  • Coughing up phlegm or blood.
  • Heartburn.
  • Throat pain.
  • Frequent throat clearing.
  • Hoarse voice.
  • Fever (higher than 101°F).
  • A drenching overnight sweat.

What are the complications of chronic cough?

Complications include: