A chronic cough is a cough that doesn’t go away. Common causes for chronic cough include asthma, postnasal drip and acid reflux. Treatment depends on the underlying cause. If you’re an adult with a cough that’s lasted more than two months or if your child’s cough lasts more than four weeks, you should contact a healthcare provider to find out why.
Chronic cough is a cough that lasts more than eight weeks in adults and four weeks in children. It’s one of the most common reasons for doctors’ office visits. Chronic cough isn’t a disease itself. It’s a symptom that results from other health conditions.
Chronic cough affects 10% to 20% of the U.S. population. It’s one of the most common reasons why people visit their healthcare providers every year.
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Some chronic cough symptoms are more common and less likely to be serious, such as:
More serious chronic cough symptoms include:
Call a healthcare provider right away if you develop any of the symptoms listed above.
Chronic cough can develop alongside a number of other health conditions. People who smoke are at a high risk for developing chronic cough. Other people at risk for developing chronic cough include those with certain conditions, including:
You can also develop chronic cough from exposure to dust and chemicals or as the result of hypersensitivity in your airway.
The most common chronic cough causes include asthma, postnasal drip and GERD. These conditions account for up to 90% of all chronic cough cases. Other chronic cough causes include:
Respiratory conditions that can cause chronic cough could include:
Sinus conditions, such as sinusitis, can produce postnasal drip. This drip sometimes feels like a tickle in the back of your throat, and drainage can lead to chronic cough. This tickle happens when the amount of draining mucus is more than usual.
Seasonal allergies such as hay fever can result in a dry chronic cough. You’re more likely to develop chronic cough if you’re allergic to dust, mold, pollen, pet dander or other common allergens.
Certain infections can cause chronic cough, including:
Chronic cough is a well-known side effect of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, a specific group of drugs used to treat high blood pressure. Providers also use these drugs for other things, like preventing kidney damage if you have diabetes. Some common ACE inhibitors are:
If you have a chronic cough and take one of these medications, you shouldn’t just stop taking the medication on your own. Talk with your healthcare provider about what’s going on. They may recommend a different medication.
Many people might worry that chronic coughing means they have cancer. While chronic coughing can sometimes indicate lung or upper airway cancer, it’s not the most likely cause.
To diagnose chronic cough and determine its cause, a healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms. They may also recommend diagnostic tests, which could include:
Treatment for chronic cough depends on the associated health condition. Your healthcare provider will discuss a tailored treatment plan based on your unique needs.
Possible chronic cough treatments may include:
To relieve symptoms of chronic cough:
Chronic coughing can affect your life in negative ways that disrupt your daily routine. The most obvious is that you can become extremely tired because you can’t sleep (insomnia). Coughing nonstop can also make your muscles hurt and even break your ribs.
You can also develop:
Because chronic cough is a symptom of so many health conditions, total prevention may not be possible. However, there are certain things you can do to reduce your risk. For example:
You should schedule a visit with a healthcare provider if you have a lingering cough that won’t go away. Call your provider right away if you’re:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Chronic cough is a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks in an adult and four weeks in a child. If coughing is having a negative impact on your life, contact a healthcare provider to find the cause. Finding the cause will help your doctor determine a treatment, so you can go back to sleeping, eating, moving and feeling well.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/03/2022.
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