When You Can't Stop Coughing: Causes, Diagnosis And


If you are struggling with a persistent cough, you may be concerned about what your cough might mean. Coughing can be caused by one, more, or more reasons. If you have a persistent cough, it's important to make an appointment with your doctor to help determine the cause. You may also wonder what questions your doctor might ask you and how to treat your cough.

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Persistent cough symptoms

There really isn't a clear definition of a persistent cough, but if you've lived with a cough like this, you probably don't need a definition. A persistent cough is a cough that interferes with your daily routine or interferes with getting a good night's sleep. It can be difficult to catch your breath. This can lead to vomiting. This can make you feel completely exhausted.

But whether you have to talk at work, go to school, babysit, or try to fall asleep, a persistent cough can clearly interfere with and reduce your quality of life.

Acute or chronic

The cough is commonly known as acute or chronic:

  • An acute cough usually lasts three weeks or less.
  • A subacute cough lasts three to eight weeks.
  • A chronic cough is defined as a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks.

Your cough may be dry (unproductive) or you may be coughing up phlegm ( productive cough ). If you have sputum, it can be clear, yellow, green, or even tinged with blood.

Your cough may come on on its own or you may have noticed other symptoms. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you have two different symptoms or if one is related to the other.

For example, if you feel short of breath, it can be difficult to tell if you just have trouble catching your breath between coughing spells or if you really have shortness of breath that is not related to coughing.


The causes of a persistent cough can range from severe to unpleasant. While some causes are more common than others, when all the possible unusual causes of a persistent cough are added together, they are actually quite common. It is also important to note that a cough can be caused by a variety of reasons.

Common causes

  • After nasal drops

  • Viral infections

  • Bronchitis

  • Allergies

  • Bronchospasm

  • Asthma

  • Acid reflux

  • Of smoking

  • Medicine

  • Exposure to irritants.

  • Croup

  • Pneumonia

  • COPD

  • Choking cough

  • COVID-19

Less common causes

Common causes

Some of the more common causes of a relentless cough include:

  • Postnasal discharge : Perhaps the most common cause of persistent chronic cough is postnasal drip syndrome due to sinusitis or rhinosinusitis (inflammation of the nasal passages). This cough is usually accompanied by clear or whitish phlegm and a clear throat.
  • Viral infections: Infections such as colds and the flu are a common cause of persistent coughs. The cough can be accompanied by other cold symptoms, such as a runny nose, or flu symptoms, such as body aches.
  • Bronchitis – Both acute and chronic bronchitis can cause a persistent cough. In chronic bronchitis, the cough is often accompanied by phlegm.
  • Allergies – Environmental allergies, such as mold allergies and food allergies, can cause coughing.
  • Bronchospasm : A narrowing of the airways ( bronchospasm ) due to an allergic reaction or asthma can cause a cough. The cough is often accompanied by wheezing on exhalation. If there is also swelling of the neck or tongue, or difficulty breathing, this may be a medical emergency ( anaphylactic shock ).
  • Asthma : Asthma can cause a persistent cough. This is often accompanied by wheezing and chest tightness, but in some people, a cough is the only symptom and may be called an "asthma cough."
  • Acid Reflux : Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause a persistent cough due to acid build-up in the stomach. Coughing spells at night after lying down and hoarseness the next morning are common. GERD may have symptoms of heartburn or indigestion, or a cough may be the only symptom.
  • Smoking : the smoker sometimes has a persistent cough . It is usually worse in the morning and is usually accompanied by mucus. Smoking is also a common cause of other respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis and even lung cancer. If you smoke, ask yourself if your cough has changed in any way.
  • Medications : ACE inhibitors , medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure, can cause coughing day and night. Examples of ACE inhibitors include vazotec (enalapril), capoten (captopril), Prinivil or Zestril (lisinopril), Lotenzin (benazepril), and Altas (ramipril).
  • Exposure to irritants : Exposure to secondhand smoke , wood smoke , kitchen smoke, dust, and toxic chemicals can cause someone to cough repeatedly.
  • Croup : In children, croup can cause a persistent and persistent cough.
  • Pneumonia – Both viral and bacterial pneumonia can cause a cough, often accompanied by a fever.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) : COPD is a major cause of a persistent cough, often accompanied by shortness of breath.
  • Whooping cough In whooping cough , periods of incessant coughing are often interrupted by a deep breath called whooping cough. It is important to note that people can develop whooping cough even if they have been vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DTP) .
  • COVID : Infection with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is associated with a persistent cough, fever, and loss of taste and smell.

Less common causes

Less common causes of a persistent cough include:

  • Lung cancer Lung cancer is a less likely cause of a persistent cough, but it is important to be aware of it. Lung cancer is best treated early. About 50% of people with lung cancer cough at the time of diagnosis.
  • Inhalation of a foreign body : Choking on meat, tablets, or other objects can cause a persistent, usually sudden, cough. An exception may be small objects that fall into the smallest bronchial tubes. You may think that the cough is caused by a viral infection, but it lasts longer than usual. Sometimes a bronchoscopy is required to look for smaller foreign bodies.
  • Tuberculosis Although tuberculosis is quite rare in the United States, it occurs, especially among immigrants and people who have spent long periods abroad. Besides coughing, other symptoms include weight loss and night sweats. Please inform your doctor if you have traveled for this and other possible reasons.
  • Bronchiectasis : Bronchiectasis , a condition in which recurring infections and inflammation cause the airways to widen, can cause a continuous cough that is often worse when lying down.
  • Blood clots in the lungs : Blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis (DVT)) can break loose and enter the lungs ( pulmonary embolism ), causing an irritating cough and often shortness of breath. Symptoms of blood clots in the legs can include redness, pain, and swelling.
  • Congestive Heart Failure : Heart failure can lead to a constant cough . This cough can produce a pink, frothy sputum, and is usually worse when lying down. Most of the time it is accompanied by shortness of breath.
  • Lung collapsePneumothorax (collapsed lung) can cause a persistent cough that often starts suddenly. In addition to coughing, people may experience shortness of breath and 'creptitis', a sensation of a blistering film under the skin of the chest and neck.
  • Fungal infections : conditions such as coccidioidomycosis , Histoplasmosis and cryptococcosis, among others, can cause a persistent cough.
  • Other lung diseases : Diseases such as sarcoidosis and other lung conditions often cause a cough.

When to call your healthcare provider

If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain , symptoms of blood clots (such as redness, swelling, or pain in your legs), or if your symptoms scare you, call your doctor (or 911) right away.

It's also important to call emergency services right away if you have stridor (a high, hoarse sound when you inhale) , a sudden cough, or a swollen tongue. face or throat, as these symptoms may indicate a medical emergency.


When you see your doctor, the first thing to do is take a complete history and physical exam. Other tests may be ordered based on your medical history and examination.

History of coughing

Information your healthcare provider may need includes:

  • When did your cough start?
  • Dry or wet cough (for example, if there is phlegm when coughing)
  • Vomiting after coughing
  • What time of day do you have the worst cough?
  • Have you had a fever
  • Have you been in contact with someone who is sick?
  • How long do you cough
  • Do you smoke or have you ever smoked?
  • Have you been exposed to secondhand smoke?
  • Other symptoms you have experienced (such as coughing up blood, feeling short of breath , or experiencing hoarseness or wheezing )
  • Do you have heartburn?
  • Do you have any general symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss or fatigue?
  • Do you have any allergies
  • Have you been exposed to mold or lived in a water-damaged home?
  • Have you had choking episodes?


Blood test : A white blood cell count (WBC) may be done to look for signs of viral or bacterial infections.

Bronchoscopy : Bronchoscopy is a test in which a small tube with a light source is inserted through the mouth into the large airways. This can be done if your healthcare provider is concerned about a foreign body in your airway (from suffocation) or is looking for an abnormality, such as a tumor.

Chest X-ray : A chest X-ray may be done to look for pneumonia and other possible causes of a cough. Keep in mind that a chest X-ray is not enough to rule out lung cancer and can miss small tumors.

Computed tomography (CT) scan : If your cough persists, or if your healthcare provider is concerned that you may have a serious cause of the cough, he or she may order a chest CT scan to take a closer look at your lungs and tissues. surrounding. …

Esophageal pH test : Acid reflux is a fairly common cause of coughing, and some people do not experience the typical symptoms of heartburn. With a pH test of the esophagus , your doctor can check for signs of acid reflux.

Laryngoscopy : A laryngoscopy is a procedure in which a tube is inserted through the mouth to view the area around the vocal cords.

Nasal swab: A nasal swab is a test in which a cotton swab or miniature bristle is inserted through the nostrils. A sample of cells is collected from the upper part of the nose to check for infections such as influenza or COVID-19 .

Spirometry : Spirometry , a test in which you can see how much air you can exhale from your lungs in one second, may be recommended if your healthcare provider is concerned about conditions such as asthma or emphysema.

Bronchoscopy : Bronchoscopy is a test in which a small tube with a light source is inserted through the mouth into the large airways. This can be done if your healthcare provider is concerned about a foreign body in your airway (from suffocation) or is looking for an abnormality, such as a tumor.

Chest X-ray : A chest X-ray may be done to look for pneumonia and other possible causes of a cough. Keep in mind that a chest X-ray is not enough to rule out lung cancer and can miss small tumors.

Watch out

Treatment for persistent cough will depend on the underlying cause and may include:

Acid blockers can be used to block acid reflux , which causes a persistent cough, to block acid production.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics if you have been diagnosed with a bacterial or fungal infection. Avoid using antibiotics that may have been available in the past. Using older antibiotics will not help if you have a viral infection, but may instead increase your chances of developing resistance to antibiotics or delay the diagnosis of a cough.

Antihistamines are medications used to treat allergy-related coughs or postnasal drops.

Natural cough suppressants , such as a teaspoon of honey. humidity (like a vaporizer) and rest can be beneficial regardless of the reason. Drinking enough fluids can thin the discharge and will almost always help.

Inhalers are effective for coughs associated with asthma or chronic lung diseases like COPD. Inhalers may consist of bronchodilators or corticosteroids, which open the airways and reduce inflammation.

Over-the- counter cough medicines are meant to suppress a cough, but not cause it. Some of these drugs have potentially dangerous side effects, such as an overdose in young children, and should be avoided in groups of young people.


Lemon drops or other lozenges can be soothing, but never give them to children. Over-the-counter cough syrups should not be used in children unless recommended by a pediatrician.

Get the word of drug information

The cause of a persistent cough can range from colds and allergies to more serious diagnoses and complications. It is important to make an appointment to speak with your healthcare provider to help determine the cause of your cough and receive appropriate treatment. The sooner the cause is identified, the sooner the symptoms disappear and you can receive effective treatment for the underlying disease.

Frequently asked questions

  • Yes. Along with fever, loss of taste and smell, a persistent cough is one of the main symptoms of COVID and can persist for weeks to months after infection. Talk to your doctor about treatment for COVID cough. Not all cough medications help with COVID, and you should consider whether it is safe to take a cough suppressant with other medications you may be using.

  • It is considered a good cough remedy. Numerous studies have shown that honey can suppress coughs and relieve symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.

  • Most causes of coughing go away with time and treatment. But if you experience these symptoms, seek emergency medical attention:

    • Severe shortness of breath
    • Swelling of the face or tongue
    • Severe chest pain
    • Hemoptysis

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