Have you noticed a cough lately? Maybe it’s new or maybe you’ve had it for a while. A cough that hangs around for longer than 6 weeks is called a chronic cough and could potentially be a warning sign. With recent weather changes, many of us experience worsening of respiratory problems around this time of year.
Some causes of chronic cough include:
- Post-infectious cough – Usually cough is the last thing to disappear after recovering from an upper respiratory infection or a bad cold.
- Post-nasal drainage – This is the most common cause of chronic cough in non‐smokers. Seasonal allergies or constant sinus congestion can lead to drainage that irritates the back of your throat, leading to cough.
- GERD – More commonly known as acid reflux, GERD can lead to aspiration of stomach contents. This means that stomach acid can come up through the esophagus and go back down into the airways instead.
- Asthma – The airways become inflamed and shrink down, making it hard to breathe. As a result, you will cough to clear and re‐open the narrowed airways.
- COPD – This is the most common cause of chronic cough in smokers. Cigarette smoke damages the lining of the airways and prevents those cells from properly moving debris and mucus out of the lungs. Therefore, the airway contents are moved by coughing instead.
- Heart failure – When the heart cannot pump blood through the body effectively, the blood backs up into the vessels of the lungs leading to accumulation of fluid within the lung tissue.
- Lung cancer – Cough is present in up to 75 percent of patients with lung cancer. While lung cancer can appear in anyone, the sudden onset of cough in someone with a history of smoking should raise suspicion for lung cancer. Detect lung cancer earlier through our Low Dose CT Program.
In most cases, your doctor can prescribe various medications to help with your symptoms. In other cases, you will need further testing such as a chest X‐ray, sputum culture, or pulmonary function testing.
Cough can also be a result of taking certain medications such as lisinopril or metoprolol, in which case your doctor might change those medication for you. It is important to be aware of the type of cough you are experiencing, whether it is dry or productive, for how long you have had it, the color of the mucus if any, and if there are any other associated symptoms like fever, swelling, or pain.