What is a Chronic Cough?

Sara Schmidt

While a normal cough can be a mild irritation, chronic cough, or a cough that lasts for longer than eight weeks, can present larger problems. Chronic cough can wear a person out to exhaustion, as well as cause insomnia, frustration, and a general disruption of life. It is also one of the most common health problems that people have every year.

Smokers are more likely to experience a chronic dry cough.
Smokers are more likely to experience a chronic dry cough.

As with a normal cough, a chronic cough is a symptom of an underlying problem. The best way to treat a chronic cough is to visit a physician, determine the cause, and treat the cause. A cough that causes an expulsion of blood or septum, as well as one that affects a person's daily life, typically warrants a doctor's attention.

A chronic cough can be a symptom of lung cancer.
A chronic cough can be a symptom of lung cancer.

Patients who suffer from chronic coughing may experience many other symptoms. Identifying these symptoms is integral in diagnosing the cause of the cough. Some symptoms may include heartburn, wheezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, shortness of breath, nasal drainage down the throat, a sour taste in the mouth, or coughing up blood.

Doctors may prescribe a nasal spray.
Doctors may prescribe a nasal spray.

Most chronic coughs are caused by acid reflux, postnasal drip, allergies, or asthma. Other causes can include exposure to an irritant, such as a harmful chemical or pesticide, bronchitis, a respiratory tract infection, lung cancer, or a response to blood pressure medication. Bronchiectasis, a serious condition in which the lungs fail to expel mucus, could also be the culprit.

Chronic cough can cause insomnia.
Chronic cough can cause insomnia.

A chronic cough can affect anyone; however, there are certain risk factors that increase a person's chance of experiencing it. Women are more likely than men to develop chronic coughing, as their cough reflexes are more sensitive than men's. Smokers are also more likely to experience chronic dry cough, as well as people who inhale secondhand smoke.

Though people are often reluctant to approach a physician for help with something like a cough, not resolving a chronic cough can cause severe complications. Left untreated, chronic coughing can lead to urinary incontinence, headache, heavy sweating, and dizziness. In some cases, fractured ribs can even result.

Doctors can often diagnose the cause of a chronic cough in a single visit. If not, certain tests, such as chest x-rays, nasal endoscopies, or scope tests, may have to be done to determine the cause. Once the cause is determined, a treatment plan can be created.

Chronic cough treatments will depend upon the diagnosis made. If the cause of the cough is a common postnasal drip, antihistamines and decongestants may be prescribed. Asthmatics may leave the doctor's office with a prescription for an inhaler or a nasal spray, while suffers of acid reflux may be given acid-reducing medication.

A chronic cough lasts for more than eight weeks.
A chronic cough lasts for more than eight weeks.

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Discussion Comments


Smoking is a major cause of chronic coughing. And it's not only caused by cigarettes. It can also be caused by other tobacco smoking methods like pipes and hookah.

When I was in college, we had a hookah cafe near campus and it was a trend to smoke hookah with friends. At one point, I was smoking hookah almost daily which is much stronger than cigarettes. When I went home during the summer break, my mother noticed my chronic cough and questioned me about it. The cough eventually went away and I haven't smoked since then.


@fBoyle-- Have you seen a doctor? You really ought to.

I'm not a doctor but it sounds like you may have an acid reflux problem. My father used to have this. When acid from the stomach travels up, all the way to the throat when lying down, it causes coughing. Chronic coughing at night time could also be a sign of sleep apnea though. So you need to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

You could try medications to reduce stomach acidity and antacids before going to bed to see if your coughing reduces. Putting an extra pillow under your head to keep your head elevated might help as well.


I have a chronic dry cough that only affects me at night. It starts soon after I go to bed and prevents me from getting good sleep. I constantly wake up and have to sip on water. It's very frustrating and it has been going on for about a month now. What might be the cause?

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