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Chronic Cough

Alyssa Ellerbrock, M.D.

A cough can be incredibly disruptive to your life, especially when it is chronic. Fortunately, many coughs resolve on their own within days or a few weeks. Before getting worried about a cough, it is important to know that coughing is a protective mechanism by your body to clear mucus, infections, or irritants.However, if a cough has been present for six to eight weeks, it is a good idea to be evaluated by your primary care doctor. There are many different causes of a chronic cough that your doctor will evaluate by talking with you, performing a physical exam, and, if indicated, ordering further testing.

Treatment will vary depending on the cause.

The most common cause of cough is drainage in the throat. This may be due to allergies, a sinus infection, or other causes of nasal congestion. Decreasing the nasal drainage to the back of the throat is key to improving the cough in this situation. Over-the-counter nasal sprays and allergy medications are good first options to treat this.

Another common cause of chronic cough is reflux disease. Patients with reflux may also experience heartburn, hoarseness, and regurgitation. Reducing the acid in the stomach with medication and avoiding foods that increase reflux will improve the cough.

Fast food, spicy food, tomato-based meals, chocolate, caffeine, and carbonated beverages are some examples of foods that worsen reflux.

Asthma is a third common cause of chronic cough, usually associated with trouble breathing, wheezing, and chest tightness.

Managing these symptoms with inhalers and avoidance of triggers is the treatment of choice to improve chronic cough in asthma.

There are additional causes of chronic cough such as eosinophilic bronchitis, COPD, medications, and others that your doctor will evaluate for as well.

If associated with your chronic cough you have fever, weight loss, blood in your phlegm, hoarseness, trouble breathing, or a smoking history it is important to see your doctor right away for a cough that does not improve in a few weeks.

Having a child sick with a cough that doesn’t go away can also be distressing. A chronic cough in a child is defined as lasting more than four weeks. Many of the common causes of cough in adults are also seen in children; however, there are additional causes that your doctor will evaluate for in your child.

Before giving over-the-counter medication for cough in children it is important to talk with your doctor about which medications are safe and recommended.

Alyssa Ellerbrock, M.D. is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, and Grangerland, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.