Cough is a very common condition and all of us experience it at some time or another. Cough can be caused due to many reasons like lung disease, upper respiratory tract infection, reflux, choking on a foreign body, heart failure, certain medications, airway irritants, etc. In most cases, the cough gets relieved in 1 to 2 weeks.

Cough is called a chronic cough when it persists for a longer time like for 6 weeks or even more. Usually, more than one condition is responsible for chronic cough.

Depending on the cause, chronic cough can be associated with other symptoms like:

  • Wheezing
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest congestion
  • Stuffy nose
  • Postnasal discharge
  • Runny nose or sneezing

What causes a chronic cough?

Smoking is the most common cause. Most cigarette smokers develop a chronic cough at some point in their lives. It happens due to chemical irritation, which can lead to serious lung diseases like Bronchitis, Pneumonia, Emphysema and lung cancer.

However, if you do not smoke, but still you have a lingering cough, then you should be worried too. Persistent cough causes exhaustion, worry, embarrassment and more. That is the reason chronic cough should be treated before it lingers for too long.

There are many conditions that can cause chronic recurrent cough. Let us look at them:

Major causes of chronic cough:

  • Asthma
  • Postnasal drip
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Chronic Bronchitis

Less common causes of chronic cough:

  • Airborne environmental irritants
  • Treatment with ACE inhibitors
  • Aspiration during swallowing
  • Heart failure
  • Lung infections
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Lung cancer
  • Other lung diseases
  • Psychological disorders

Let us look at the major causes of chronic cough

Asthma: Asthma is a condition in which there is a temporary narrowing of the medium-sized tubes that carry air into the lungs. This leads to wheezing or whistling sound while breathing. Common symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, excess mucus production and cough. Sometimes, asthma can cause a persistent dry cough, which gets triggered by dust, cold air, allergens or exercise.

Postnasal drip: The membrane inside your nose can get irritated due to allergies, sinusitis, viruses, dust or air pollutants. In response to this irritation, the membrane secretes more mucus, which is thin and watery. When this mucus drips down the throat, it triggers a cough. Patients with postnasal drip, usually cough more at night. This kind of chronic cough can be treated with decongestants or antihistamine medications.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease: Also called acid reflux, in this condition, stomach acids flow back and irritate the food pipe (oesophagus) which can cause a chronic cough.

Chronic bronchitis: It is a condition in which bronchial tubes get inflamed leading to narrowing of the airways. This causes chronic cough, mucus production, shortness of breath and tiredness. Usually, it is treated with antibiotics and corticosteroid inhalers.

The first thing to remember is that Chronic cough is not always a serious condition and that it can usually be treated or managed with medicines.

So when should you worry about the chronic cough? If you are experiencing one of the following symptoms along with chronic cough, then you may require prompt medical attention:

  • Prolonged or high fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bloody sputum
  • Loss of appetite
  • Copious sputum
  • Chest pain