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Chronic Cough

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is a chronic cough?

A chronic cough is a cough that lasts more than 4 weeks in children or 8 weeks in adults.

What causes a chronic cough?

  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Allergies
  • Acid reflux
  • Lung conditions such as asthma, COPD, lung cancer, or pneumonia
  • Medicines such as blood pressure or heart medicines
  • Conditions such as cystic fibrosis
  • Lung infections such as pertussis or tuberculosis

What other signs and symptoms might I have?

  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Pain or itching in your throat
  • Red, swollen, watery eyes
  • A raspy or hoarse voice
  • Heartburn or a sour taste in your mouth

How is a chronic cough diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. Tell him or her about your medical conditions, medicines, and any recent respiratory infections. Tell him or her if you have ever smoked, currently smoke, or are exposed to secondhand smoke. You may need a chest x-ray to check for problems with your lungs. You may need other tests to find the cause of your chronic cough. This may include blood tests, lung function tests, or an endoscopy. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on these tests.

How is a chronic cough treated?

The cough may go away on its own without treatment. You may need medicine to stop the cough or treat the cause of your cough. This may include medicine to treat allergies or acid reflux, or decrease swelling in your airways. You may also need antibiotics to treat a respiratory infection. If you take medicine that causes a chronic cough, it may be stopped or changed. You may need speech therapy. A speech therapist can teach you ways to control your cough.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to care for myself?

  • Prevent acid reflex. Acid reflux can make your chronic cough worse. Raise your head and upper back when you sleep. Place 2 or more pillows behind your head or sleep in a recliner. Do not lie down for at least 1 hour after you eat. Do not have foods or drinks that increase heartburn. Ask your healthcare provider for other ways to prevent acid reflux.
    Prevent GERD
  • Do not smoke. Encourage your adolescent child not to smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. They can also make your cough worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Stay away from secondhand smoke. Do not let people smoke in your car, home, or near your child. Do not stand near someone that is smoking. This includes anyone that is smoking an E-cigarrete.
  • Avoid anything that triggers your allergies or irritates your throat. Allergens and irritants can make your chronic cough worse. Allergens may include dust mites, pollen, pet dander, or mold. Wear a mask if you work around pollutants or irritants. Ask your healthcare provider for more ways to decrease your exposure to allergens or irritants.
  • Drink plenty of liquids as directed. Liquids may help relieve throat discomfort that causes you to cough. Add honey to tea or hot water to help ease your throat pain. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You cough up blood.
  • You faint when you cough.
  • You have trouble breathing.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have new or worsening symptoms.
  • You have severe pain when you take a deep breath.
  • You become very tired after a coughing fit.
  • You have trouble sleeping because of the coughing.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.