We all cough from time to time. This is a normal physical action that helps clear secretions and particles from the lungs. A chronic cough, one that lasts more than 8 weeks, is a condition that a doctor should evaluate. Not only can a chronic cough be embarrassing, it can make it difficult to sleep, make the voice hoarse, create persistent fatigue, and, in women, be a source of urinary incontinence. While the condition may not indicate a serious health problem, it’s worth the time to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Doing so can restore a better quality of living.
Causes of Chronic Coughing
Studies point to three common causes that are responsible for about 90 percent of chronic cough cases. These are, from most to least common, postnasal drip, asthma, and acid reflux.
- Postnasal drip happens when secretions from the nose drip into the back of the throat. This can cause irritation and may trigger coughing. Additional signs of postnasal drip include runny or stuffy nose, a feeling of needing to clear the throat, or a sensation of liquid flowing down the back of the throat.
- Asthma is the most common reason for chronic cough in children and the second most common in adults. Additional symptoms include wheezing and feeling short of breath. Symptoms may vary with the seasons, temperature, or exposure to fragrances or other substances.
- Acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux or GERD, is a condition in which acid from the stomach rises up into the esophagus, the tube that connects the stomach and throat. With GERD, a cough may coincide with heartburn.
Additional reasons for a chronic cough include:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Respiratory tract infection
- Use of ACE inhibitor medication for blood pressure
- Lung cancer, though this is rare
Diagnosis and Treatment
To determine the cause of a chronic cough, a doctor will perform a consultation and examination. A diagnosis may be suggested based on the examination and review of symptoms alone. Using clinical data, the doctor may recommend a course of treatment, which aims to eliminate the underlying cause of the cough. If symptoms improve with treatment, no further tests are necessary. If they do not, the doctor may refer to a pulmonologist for additional tests, such as a lung function test.
Dr. Bowen provides pulmonary care with an emphasis on patient comfort and education. Contact our NYC pulmonology practice at 212.480.4062 for more information or to schedule your consultation.