What Constitutes a Chronic Cough?
Coughing is an important function in the body to keep unwanted particles out of the lungs. Sometimes, a coughing fit can be as simple as a minute or two of intense coughing because something “went down the wrong pipe.” This response is the body’s protective reaction to avoid food or liquids in the lungs.
It is common for a cough to develop with an upper respiratory illness. For example, coughing is a symptom that often occurs when someone has a head cold. Usually, these symptoms go away in a short time after you recover from the illness.
If the cough persists for a while, then you could be suffering from a chronic cough. You might consider seeking medical treatment to identify the reason you are coughing and learn about potential treatments.
What is Causing Your Chronic Cough?
The cause of chronic coughing can vary. In many cases, coughing is present along with other symptoms. For example, coughing might be a symptom of another disease. Common causes include:
- Allergies: Often, allergies increase mucus production and cause a runny nose. If the mucous is running down the back of the throat, then this postnasal drip can contribute to chronic coughing problems.
- Asthma: Some people are sensitive to environmental factors that can affect the upper respiratory system, such as air irritants, cold air, or an increase in breathing and heart rate due to exercise. Some types of asthma cause a cough to occur.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD): When acid is coming back up the esophagus, it can result in irritation between the throat and the stomach. Ongoing irritation can cause the body to cough.
- Bronchitis: This disease causes the airways to become inflamed, which can cause coughing.
- COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a common side effect of smoking that can cause coughing.
- Pneumonia or the Flu: A lingering infection can increase mucus production and result in irritation in the airways. It is common for people to experience a chronic cough after having the flu or pneumonia. Even if the other symptoms subside, the airways can still be inflamed for a time.
- Lung Disease: A variety of lung diseases can increase the risk of chronic cough: lung cancer, aspiration, cystic fibrosis, sarcoidosis, and more.
- Heart Disease: In some cases, chronic coughing can be a sign of heart disease. If you notice that the cough gets worse when lying flat, then it could be a “heart cough.”
What Constitutes a Chronic Cough?
No one worries about an occasional cough. But you might wonder about your overall health if you have a persistent cough that just won’t go away. The length of time the cough lasts is the most telling symptom that you have a chronic cough. This measurement of time varies depending on the age of the patient:
- Children: A child has a chronic cough when the coughing has continued for 4 weeks or more.
- Adults: For adults, coughing can persist for up to 8 weeks before it is considered a chronic cough.
The 4-week and 8-week thresholds reduce the likelihood that the cough is caused by the common cold or a respiratory infection. If your coughing coincides with other symptoms, then immediate medical treatment might be needed. Don’t hesitate to visit a local urgent care to talk to a doctor about the symptoms.
“Wet” vs. “Dry” Coughing
Coughing happens when the airways are irritated, which causes the chest and stomach muscles to contract. When this irritation and muscle contracting make the airways open quickly, then air rushes out, and a cough occurs.
A “dry” cough is non-productive, which means that you don’t have any mucous production with the cough. A “wet” cough includes the production of mucus, and you will likely notice that you are coughing stuff up. Often, wet coughs are connected with conditions that cause a postnasal drip, such as a head cold or allergies.
Should You Talk to a Doctor?
Chronic coughing is quite common and is one of the leading reasons why people visit a doctor. How do you know when it is time to talk to a doctor about your cough? Keep in mind that coughing can be a medical emergency if these symptoms are also present:
- Fever higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
When these symptoms are occurring with the cough, then it is essential to visit an emergency room or an urgent care office as soon as possible.
It’s smart to visit a doctor if you notice that your coughing is interfering with daily activities. Even though it isn’t a medical emergency, you shouldn’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. If you notice these symptoms, then it is time to talk to a doctor:
- A large amount of mucus production
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweating
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and complete a thorough exam to determine the cause of the chronic cough. Once a diagnosis is identified, then a treatment plan can be designed.
Chronic Cough Treatments
During the diagnostic process, a doctor might recommend certain tests, such as a chest x-ray, blood sample, CT scan, spirometry, throat swab, and/or phlegm sample.
Often, the most effective solution for a chronic cough is to choose treatments that are specific to the underlying condition that is causing the cough. As an example, if GERD is the cause, then managing stomach acid will naturally reduce the occurrence of your cough.
If the cough is coexisting with a postnasal drip, then the use the antihistamines or decongestants might be sufficient to reduce the symptoms. These medications are helping to reduce upper respiratory inflammation and decrease secretions, which reduces postnasal drip.
Call University Urgent Care
Whether you have a persistent cough or your coughing is coinciding with other concerning symptoms, our experienced staff is here to help you identify the underlying cause. At University Urgent Care, we provide quality medical services for people of all ages. It doesn’t matter if you are a student or retiree; we are happy to assist with your personal treatment plan.
Our team at University Urgent Care offers years of experience as board-certified nurse practitioners. We can assist with a range of medical conditions, and invite you to call us to schedule an appointment: (817) 697-0700