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What is a Chronic Cough?

What is a Chronic Cough?

A chronic cough is defined as a cough that persists over time. It is a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disease. Chronic coughing is a very common complaint, and it is the reason for countless doctor visits each year. Because the causes can vary greatly, it is important to seek medical attention for a cough that does not subside on its own.

What Causes a Chronic Cough?

Many of the most common causes of a chronic cough are mild and are not a cause for significant concern. Some of the most common include allergies, asthma, certain medications, cigarette smoking, sinus problems, infections, and esophageal reflux of stomach contents due to gastroesophageal reflux disease. A foreign obstruction of the airway may also cause chronic coughing. Less commonly, chronic cough may be caused by congestive heart failure, emphysema, tumors, or sarcoidosis. Because there is a possibility of a serious underlying condition, patients should see a doctor for chronic coughing.

Diagnosing a Chronic Cough

Because so many different factors can cause a chronic cough, treatment varies greatly depending upon the cause. Typically, the first step is determining the underlying condition that is causing the patient to experience a persistent cough. The reason may be diagnosed based on the patient's symptoms and a physical examination, or additional testing may be necessary. Chest x-rays and laboratory tests are often utilized. Patients may also undergo allergy testing and other exams. When the patient's primary physician cannot determine a cause, he or she may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Treating a Chronic Cough

In some cases, the initial treatment is aimed at controlling the cough. This may be done through cough medications, lozenges, or even home remedies such as inhaling steam. More often, however, doctors will work to treat the underlying cause of a cough rather than suppressing the symptom itself. Depending upon the cause, patients may be given medications such as inhaled bronchodilators, antihistamines, or antibiotics. When medications continue to cause coughing, doctors may try switching the patient to a different prescription. In cases of a chronic cough caused by smoking, lifestyle changes may be necessary. When a chronic cough develops as the result of a more serious underlying condition such as lung cancer, additional steps will usually be required.

With treatment, chronic cough can usually be managed. The exact prognosis varies depending upon the underlying cause of a cough. While most cases are mild, there is a slight possibility of a severe underlying condition that requires immediate medical attention.