A chronic cough is more than just an annoyance. A chronic cough can ruin your sleep and leave you feeling exhausted. Severe cases of chronic cough can result in vomiting, lightheadedness, depression, even rib fractures.
Chronic cough is defined as lasting eight weeks or longer in adults, four weeks in children.
While it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the problem that's triggering a chronic cough, the most common causes are tobacco use, postnasal drip, asthma and acid reflux — the backflow of stomach acid that can irritate your throat. Chronic cough typically disappears once the underlying problem is treated.
A chronic cough can occur with other signs and symptoms, which may include:
When to see a doctor
An occasional cough is normal — it helps clear foreign substances and secretions from your lungs and prevents infection. But a cough that persists for weeks is usually the result of an underlying problem. In many cases, more than one cause is involved.
Studies have shown that the above three causes, alone or in combination, are responsible for 90 percent of cases of chronic coughs.
Being a current or former smoker is one of the leading risk factors for chronic cough. Frequent exposure to secondhand smoke also can lead to coughing and lung damage.
Women tend to have more-sensitive cough reflexes, so they're more likely to develop a chronic cough than are men.
Having a persistent cough can be exhausting. Coughing attacks can disrupt your sleep and cause a variety of other problems, including:
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in lung disorders (pulmonologist).
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your medical history and physical examination help determine which tests your doctor will order. The goal of testing is to identify the underlying cause of your chronic cough.
Rather than testing, many doctors will try treating you for one of the common causes of chronic cough. Only if the treatments aren't successful will they begin testing for more unusual causes.
Lung function tests
A spirometer is a diagnostic device that measures the amount of air you're able to breathe in and out and the time it takes you to exhale completely after you take a deep breath. ...
Treatments and drugs
Determining the cause of chronic cough is crucial to effective treatment. In many cases, more than one underlying condition may be causing your chronic cough.
If you're taking an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor medication, switch to an angiotensin-receptor blocker, which doesn't have a cough as a side effect.
Medications used to treat chronic cough may include:
A cautious approach on medications is recommended for children, as medications are generally not effective in relieving a nonspecific cough in children.
Lifestyle and home remedies
In many cases, there are measures you can take at home to help ease your chronic cough. Examples include:
Last Updated: 2013-05-24
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