5 Common Causes Of A Chronic Cough

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

Most people develop a cough from time to time, which is usually nothing to worry about. Acute coughing can be due to a respiratory infection, such as a cold or the flu. For some people, coughing is not a passing symptom, but a chronic condition. According to Stanford University Medical Center, a cough that lasts longer than six weeks is considered chronic. Although it is difficult to estimate how many people suffer from a chronic cough, it is one of the most common reasons people see their doctor. The most common causes of a chronic cough are listed below.


According to Harvard Medical School, one of the leading causes of a chronic cough is smoking. It may be surprising to find out cigarette smoke contains about 60 chemicals that are known to cause cancer (see: Shocking Chemicals Found In Cigarettes). The chemicals irritate the lungs, which leads to coughing.

A chronic cough in smokers is often due to conditions that have developed as a result of damage to the lungs from the smoke. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which may include emphysema or chronic bronchitis, can develop due to cigarette smoking. 


COPD is also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and is characterized by the inflammation or damage to the airways and alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. The most common cause is due to long term cigarette smoking. One of its symptoms is chronic coughing caused by the excess buildup of mucus in the lungs, as well as extreme shortness of breath. Other lung diseases, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, also fall under the category of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. If you suspect your chronic cough is due to COPD or excessive smoking, be sure to see your doctor to rule out the condition and options to quit cigarette smoking.


Asthma is also a common cause of chronic coughing. Asthma is a lung disease that causes the airways to narrow and swell. Why some people develop the condition, is not clearly understood, but triggers that commonly cause asthma attacks include exercise, pet dander, stress, dust and pollen.

During and asthma attack, the combination of constriction and inflammation in the lungs leads to coughing. People with asthma may have a dry cough or a cough with a lot of mucus production. Although there is not a cure for asthma, medications are available to treat symptoms including a chronic cough.

Post-Nasal Drip

One of the most common causes of a persistent cough is postnasal drip. A postnasal drip happens when the nose produces excessive mucus that is confined to the back of the sinus rather than expelling through the nose. As long as the mucus drips down the back of the throat, it can cause an irritation reflex in the form of a cough. Postnasal drips can happen due to a variety of reasons, ranging from allergic rhinitis or an infection, to the beginning of a bad cold or the flu. Hence, be sure to see your healthcare provider to relief the postnasal drip, which in turn, will also stop the chronic cough as well.

Infection Of The Airway

Illness and infections that affect the respiratory system can also lead to chronic coughing. For example, that“cold which never went away” can signify that a bug is the culprit to the chronic cough. As an individual recover from influenza or upper respiratory airway infections, a chronic cough may linger at the end of recovery. Another infection of the airways characterized by constant chronic cough is pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Although pertussis is more prevalent in children, it is still possible for adults to become affected. Be sure to get vaccinated against the disease, or see your health care professional for treatment options.

Coughing helps rid excess mucus or a foreign substance from the lungs. Occasional coughing is normal, but people who have a cough lasting longer than a few weeks should see their doctor. Chronic coughing can interfere with sleep and lead to fatigue. It can also cause difficulties exercising and lead to frustration. If you have a chronic cough, seeing your doctor and determining the cause is the first step in getting proper treatment.


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