Six Causes of a Persistent Cough and When to be Concerned

Woman with persistent cough trying to work from home

In most instances, illness or allergies will be the reason for a cough. You cough from time to time, or for a few days, and then it clears up. But if you find yourself coughing all day, every day, something isn’t right.

But sometimes, coughs can last for a long time. You aren’t feeling sick but your cough is hanging around stubbornly. You cough at the movies (making some people pretty agitated), at the grocery store, everywhere you go. And you’re really wondering: when will this cough go away?

Should I be worried if I’m dealing with a persistent cough? Well, there are times when a persistent cough can be little more than aggravating; in other circumstances, it might be an indication of a more severe illness. It’s a good plan to try and ascertain what’s going on in either case.

When you can’t stop coughing it’s pretty irritating

Persistent coughs can be quite obnoxious. That’s because a cough isn’t particularly a delicate experience. Those aggressive blasts of escaping air can have a negative effect on your life even if your persistent cough is fairly low-key.

Your general quality of life can be affected by a persistent cough in a couple of ways:

  • Difficulty sleeping: Sleeping is all but out of the question when you keep coughing. Nothing is more frustrating than being on the edge of drifting off to sleep only to be woken up by a coughing fit.
  • Trouble eating: Eating can be a bit difficult when you’re dealing with a persistent cough. That’s mainly because your esophagus can only manage one direction of flow at a time; if air is moving up, food won’t be able to go down (but it will most likely come with some increased choking and coughing). Consequently, a chronic cough can make eating difficult.
  • Social stigma: Everyone is still on high alert for Covid. That’s justifiable and likely smart! But because of this, everybody is up at arms whenever they hear somebody cough. People will attempt to stay far away from you, avoid eye contact, and basically pretend you don’t exist. Even if your cough isn’t contagious, you’ll probably still experience a high degree of social stigma. And that’s not fun for anyone.

What defines a persistent cough?

So is your cough persistent or are you experiencing a lingering cold? Well, duration is one of the easiest diagnostic points: how long has the cough lasted? In general, a cough that lasts for 6-8 weeks or more is considered a chronic or persistent cough.

Here are a few other symptoms that can come with a persistent cough:

  • Sweating overnight
  • Coughing up blood
  • A sore throat (especially if you’re clearing your throat often)
  • Post nasal drip
  • Weight loss
  • Hoarseness
  • Heartburn
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • In some circumstances, a cough and a fever

The intensity of these symptoms will differ on a case by case basis. You should have a discussion with your doctor about treatment solutions if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

What could be causing your persistent cough?

You should get your persistent cough checked out because it will typically be a symptom of some other root condition. Some of them are significant; some of them not so much.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Allergies: Sneezing is usually what most individuals think of when they consider allergies. But sometimes there are other reactions. Allergic reactions can also frequently cause coughing. If you determine that your persistent cough is more common in the spring or summer, for instance, you might want to ask your provider if they think you might have allergies. And in these cases, getting an allergy test can give you a lot of answers.
  • Digestive issues: A disease called GERD or acid reflux can sometimes cause coughing. In these situations, your body is reacting to the stomach acid or bile that’s moving up your esophagus. It’s about as enjoyable as it sounds. Getting the best way to treat these digestive issues is important and your doctor can assist you with that.
  • Medications: In some instances, your medications may cause a reaction that results in coughing. Your doctor should be quite well versed in these reactions, so make sure to touch base. There may be substitute medication options that don’t cause the same reaction.
  • Smoking: This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody anymore, but smoking can cause significant problems for your overall health. And it can produce all manner of lung issues, including a chronic cough. You may have contaminants, such as tar, trapped in your throat which would be best case scenario. Long-term damage caused by smoking may also be the reason for your cough if you’re less fortunate. In either case, your lungs will thank you if you stop smoking immediately.
  • Lung diseases: Chronic coughing can be caused by a lot of lung diseases including pulmonary fibrosis, COPD, and asthma. Asthma isn’t unusual and medication and lifestyle choices can typically manage it effectively. However, diseases such as COPD are harder to deal with. Over time, this degenerative disease can have an impact on your breathing. It might also cause you to cough more often.
  • Sinus problems: Under your eyes and behind your nose are cavities known as sinuses. Coughing can be triggered by post-nasal-drip which in turn can be a result of sinus problems such as a sinus infection. Depending on the underlying cause, medication or sometimes surgery will be utilized to treat a sinus infection.
  • These kinds of pulmonary diseases can’t actually be cured but they can be slowed.

When to be concerned about your chronic cough

So, when should you worry? In most cases, your cough will subside on its own. The time to make an appointment with your provider is when your cough isn’t responding to over-the-counter medicine and lingers for more than 6-8 weeks.

Even if your cough goes away, it’s never a bad idea to take a closer look at the health of your lungs, your throat, and your pulmonary system. Schedule an appointment with us right away!


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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