How is chronic cough treated?

Treatment decisions are made based on the cause of the cough.

For example:

  • If the cause is asthma, drugs such as inhaled bronchodilators and/or steroids are prescribed. These drugs help reduce airway inflammation and wheezing.
  • If the cause is GERD, several non-drug treatments and prescription medications are tried. Non-drug treatments include using pillows to prop up the head when lying down, avoiding foods that cause acid reflux (such as chocolates, colas, red wines) and not eating right before bedtime. Prescription medicines, such as cimetidine (Tagamet®), famotidine (Pepcid®), ranitidine (Zantac®), esomeprazole (Nexium®), lansoprazole (Prevacid®), and omeprazole (Prilosec®), are prescribed to reduce stomach acids.
  • If the cause is bacterial pneumonia or bronchitis, antibiotics, such as azithromycin (Azithrocin®, Zithromycin®), cefuroxime (Ceftin®) or cefprozil (Cefzil®), are prescribed.
  • If the cause is post-nasal drip, over-the-counter decongestants, such as diphenhydramine or pseudoephedrine, may help relieve post-nasal drip symptoms. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the cause of the chronic cough is sinusitis. Nasal spray, such as ipratopium (Atrovent®) can relieve runny nose, sneezing and post-nasal drip. A nasal glucocorticoid, such as fluticasone (Flonase®) can also reduce post-nasal drip.
  • If the cause is the use of specific high blood pressure medicines (ACE inhibitor drugs), other high blood pressure drugs can be prescribed instead.
  • If other treatments have failed and the chronic cough is severe, a cough suppressant such as codeine may be prescribed.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/09/2016.

References

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is Cough? Accessed 3/11/2016.
  • Chung KF, Widdicombe JG. Causes and Treatment of Acute and Chronic Cough. In: Mason, ed. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, 5th ed.; Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010: Chapter 29.
  • Dweik RA. Cough – Etiology. In: Carey, WD, ed. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine 2010.2nd ed.; Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010: section 12.
  • Kelkar P, Weldon D. Approach to the Patient with Chronic Cough. In: Adkinson FM, et al. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 7th ed.; St. Louis: Mosby; 2008: Chapter 79.

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