chronic cough

Got a chronic cough? Knowing the cause might help you find relief.

Dr. Jonathan Kiev

Dr. Jonathan Kiev

Written by Dr. Jonathan Kiev, a cardiothoracic surgeon at UK HealthCare.

Coughing all the time can be a major annoyance to you and those around you. Even worse, chronic cough can affect your sleep, your job performance, and your overall health and well-being.

So, what causes chronic coughing and what can be done to find relief? I answer those and other questions below. Check it out.

What causes chronic cough?

Chronic cough is very common and can be caused by many things. Your doctor will work with you to narrow down the possible causes of your cough and help you find a solution.

Other symptoms that accompany a chronic cough can tell you more about what’s causing it. These symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, the frequent need to clear your throat, hoarseness, and heartburn. If you have chronic cough and also have shortness of breath or are coughing up blood, you should see your doctor right away.

Does smoking cause chronic cough?

Yes, it can. Hot cigarette or cigar smoke can irritate the membrane and lining of the nose and the throat, which can cause chronic cough. Secondhand smoke is also a common trigger of chronic cough.

Quitting smoking can help you find relief from chronic coughing, in addition to having an array of other health benefits. Talk to your doctor about products and programs that can help you quit.

Can work hazards cause chronic cough?

Work-related irritants, including soot and dust, can also cause the condition. To prevent inhalation on the job, many employers will provide a mask to employees working around paint, woodworking materials, concrete dust and other particles that can be easily inhaled.

High-risk professionals who work around asbestos – including shipyard workers, fiberglass industry professionals and insulation installers – should be especially cautious and take active measures to prevent potential inhalation.

What are some of the less common causes?

Food entering the airway instead of the esophagus is a very common cause of coughing. In children, swallowed objects, such as peanuts or a small battery, can become lodged in the airway and cause coughing. (Always do your best to keep batteries and other choking hazards out of children’s reach.)

Less commonly, lung cancer can be the cause of chronic coughing. Your doctor will use X-rays and other tests to look for early signs of the disease.

Asthma and sarcoidosis (an inflammatory disease that can affect the lungs) are two conditions that can cause a chronic cough. These conditions require active management by your doctor to minimize coughing and to prevent these diseases from causing organ damage.

What happens if I cough up blood?

Sources of bleeding need to be looked at more aggressively. Your physician may recommend a CT scan or referral to a lung specialist (pulmonologist) who may recommend a bronchoscopy to pinpoint the source of bleeding.

I’ve heard people say that severe coughing can cause a broken rib? Is that really possible?

This is not an uncommon story. A hard cough may, in fact, fracture a rib, cause dizziness, or cause a patient to lose bladder control or even pass out.

Many patients are not able to lie flat because it aggravates their cough, causing them to feel like they’re choking. These are symptoms of severe chronic cough and require urgent evaluation by a physician.

How is chronic cough treated?

It really depends on what is causing your cough.

Many medicines, especially certain blood pressure medications, can cause chronic cough and can be adjusted to provide relief.

Patients with postnasal drip often have chronic cough and may need specific medicines to prevent the irritating trigger of excess mucus.

Patients who have GERD or gastrointestinal reflux can have irritated vocal cords, which can also cause chronic coughing. These patients can be prescribed acid-blocking medication to provide relief, and in some cases, may require surgery.


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