The majority of my sources indicate that a cough is considered chronic if lasting for eight weeks or more. However, if you’ve had a cough for more than two weeks you definitely want to see your doctor1. The chronic cough causes can be serious and even deadly so you want to take this nagging symptom seriously. For easy reference, I’ll list the causes included in this article in alphabetical order.
Allergies, Irritants and Postnasal Drip
Allergies and irritants can trigger a cough and if the allergen (thing that causes the allergy) or irritant is regularly present in your environment the cough can become chronic. Postnasal drip, often related to allergies and irritants, but sometimes caused by bacterial or viral infection, can also trigger coughing.
“Asthma is a long-term lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways 2.” Especially in cases of mild asthma, coughing may be the only symptom present. Asthma is a potentially life threatening disease so be sure to contact your doctor immediately if you think this might be the cause of your chronic cough.
Bronchiectasis is destruction and widening of the large airways 3.” It is most often caused by complications from childhood traumas such as infection or inhaling a foreign object but about half of all cases of bronchiectasis are caused by cystic fibrosis. It can also be caused by “routinely breathing in food particles while eating 3.”
“Bronchitis is an inflammation of the main air passages (bronchi) to your lungs. It causes a cough, shortness of breath and chest tightness 4.”. It is important to get acute bronchitis treated before it becomes chronic. Chronic bronchitis can be a life long health challenge.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is actually the general term for a family of diseases. “COPD refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. It includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and in some cases asthma 5“. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF)
CF is an inherited disease of the mucus and sweat glands. It affects mostly your lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, sinuses and sex organs 6.”
Most commonly caused by smoking, emphysema makes it extremely hard to breathe, especially during exercise.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) or Acid Reflux
To me at least, this was the most surprising cause of chronic cough. Although our bodies are definitely interconnected, prior to researching this article I hadn’t connected digestive woes with coughing. However, acid reflux (one of the symptoms of GERD) is one of the three most common causes of chronic coughing (the other two being asthma and postnasal drip) 7. If in addition to your cough you are experiencing heartburn or indigestion more than twice a week, your cough may be caused by GERD.
This was only slightly surprising, as I knew that heart failure can cause shortness of breath and shortness of breath and coughing often go hand in hand. This chronic cough cause is a prime example of why anyone who has a cough lasting more than two weeks should see a doctor (rather than wait the full eight weeks to fit the formal definition of chronic cough). If you’re also experiencing any of the following symptoms do not wait; seek emergency treatment or call your doctor now. Some symptoms of heart failure: Irregular or rapid pulse; heart palpitations, swelling of the feet, ankles or abdomen, weight gain, abdominal swelling, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, weakness, faintness, decreased urine production, nausea, vomiting or infection with high fever. However, some people with heart failure experience no symptoms 7.
“Only a small percentage of people with a chronic cough have lung cancer, and most are current or former smokers. 8″ Although it is rare, it is serious. If you have a chronic cough and are coughing up blood you should definitely see a doctor.
Chronic coughs brought on by medicine are most frequently due to blood pressure drugs, particularly Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. If you have fragile bones (intense coughing can actually cause rib fractures and other complications). Do not stop taking the medication without consulting your doctor. S/he may recommend that you wait it out (the cough often goes away after being on the medication for a while) or switch you to another medication. Speak up if you have fragile bones as intense coughing can cause rib fractures.
A cough can linger long after most symptoms of a cold, flu, pneumonia or other infection of the upper respiratory tract have gone away. In some cases, this may occur because the infection is lingering. Sometimes, even if the infection is gone, your airways may remain inflamed and therefore especially sensitive to irritants. 8”
You’ve probably noticed that smoking causes several diseases already mentioned. Even if you haven’t reached the disease stage, smoking can cause coughing. Even if you aren’t a smoker, just being around cigarette smoke can cause coughing if your system is sensitive to it. If you’re sure your coughing is caused by smoking I’d still urge you to see your doctor (and quit smoking). You could be right, but could also be any of the conditions above (or even one I didn’t find) and almost all health conditions are better treated when caught earlier rather than later.
Various throat related infections and cancers can cause a chronic cough9.