Chronic cough - diagnosis and treatment (2023)


Your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical examination. A thorough medical history and physical examination can provide important clues about a chronic cough. Your doctor may also order tests to look for the cause of your chronic cough.

But many doctors choose to start treatment for one of the most common causes of chronic cough rather than run expensive tests. But if treatment doesn't work, you may be tested for less common causes.

Imaging tests

  • X-rays.While a routine chest X-ray won't reveal the most common causes of cough — postnasal drip, acid reflux, or asthma — it can be used to check for lung cancer, pneumonia, and other lung diseases. An X-ray of your sinuses can reveal signs of a sinus infection.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans.CT scans can also be used to check your lungs for conditions that may be causing a chronic cough or your sinuses for sources of infection.

Lung function test


Chronic cough - diagnosis and treatment (1)


A spirometer is a diagnostic device that measures the amount of air you can breathe in and out. It also tracks how long it takes to exhale completely after taking a deep breath.

(Video) Chronic Cough Explained Clearly - Remastered

These simple, non-invasive tests, such as spirometry, are used to diagnose asthma and COPD. They measure how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can exhale.

Your doctor can order an asthma provocation test, which checks how well you can breathe before and after inhaling the substance methacholine (Provocholin).

laboratory test

If the mucus you cough up is colored, your doctor may want to test a sample of it for bacteria.

Range test

If your doctor can't find an explanation for your cough, special scope tests may be considered to look for possible causes. These tests may include:

  • bronchoscopy.Using a thin, flexible tube equipped with a light and a camera (bronchoscope), your doctor can look at your lungs and airways. A biopsy may also be taken from the lining of your airway to look for abnormalities.
  • Rhinoscopy.Using a fiberoptic scope (nose horn), your doctor can see your nasal passages, sinuses, and upper airways.


A chest X-ray and spirometry are usually ordered to find the cause of a chronic cough in children.

Mere information

  • X-rays of the chest
  • CT-scanning
  • spirometry
  • X-ray


Determining the cause of chronic cough is essential for effective treatment. In many cases, more than one underlying condition may be causing your chronic cough.

(Video) Causes of Chronic Cough in Adults

If you are currently a smoker, your doctor will discuss your readiness to quit and provide help to achieve this goal.

If you are taking an ACE inhibitor, your doctor may switch you to another medicine that does not have cough as a side effect.

Medicines used to treat chronic cough may include:

  • Antihistamines, corticosteroids and decongestants.These drugs are the standard treatment for allergies and postnasal drip.
  • Medicines for inhaled asthma.The most effective treatments for asthma-related coughs are corticosteroids and bronchodilators, which reduce inflammation and open your airways.
  • antibiotics.If a bacterial, fungal, or mycobacterial infection is causing your chronic cough, your doctor may prescribe medication to target the infection.
  • Acid blockers.When lifestyle changes don't take care of acid reflux, you may be treated with medications that block acid production. Some people need surgery to correct the problem.

Cough suppressants

During the time your doctor determines the cause of your cough and begins treatment, your doctor may also prescribe a cough suppressant to try to speed up your symptom relief.

Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are intended to treat the symptoms of cough and cold, not the underlying disease. Research shows that these drugs have not been shown to work better than inactive drugs (placebo). More importantly, these drugs have potentially serious side effects, including fatal overdoses in children under 2 years of age.

Do not use over-the-counter medicines, except fever reducers and pain relievers, to treat coughs and colds in children under 6 years of age. Also, consider avoiding the use of these drugs in children under 12 years of age.

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(Video) Neurogenic Chronic Cough Treatment with a Superior Laryngeal Nerve Block

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(Video) Common Causes of Chronic Cough

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Discover Mayo Clinic studiestesting new treatments, interventions and tests as a means of preventing, detecting, treating or managing this condition.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Follow the plan your doctor gives you to treat the cause of your cough. In the meantime, you can also try these tips to relieve your cough:

  • Drink fluids.Fluid helps thin mucus in your throat. Warm liquids, such as broth, tea or juice, can soothe your throat.
  • Suck on cough drops or hard candies.They can relieve a dry cough and soothe an irritated throat.
  • Consider taking honey.A teaspoon of honey can help relieve a cough. Do not give honey to children under 1 year of age, as honey may contain bacteria that are harmful to infants.
  • Humidify the air.Use a cool mist humidifier or take a steamy shower.
  • Avoid tobacco smoke.Smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke irritates your lungs and can worsen coughs caused by other factors. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit.

Preparation for your appointment

While you may see your primary care physician initially, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in lung disease (pulmonologist).

What you can do

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Detailed descriptions of your symptoms
  • Information about medical problems you have had
  • Information about your parents' or siblings' medical problems
  • All medications, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbal preparations, and supplements, that you take
  • Your smoking history
  • Questions you want to ask the doctor

What you can expect from your doctor

Your doctor may ask some of the following questions:

  • What are your symptoms and when did they start?
  • Have you recently had the flu or a cold?
  • Do you currently smoke or have you ever smoked tobacco?
  • Does anyone in your family or at work smoke?
  • Are you exposed to dust or chemicals at home or at work?
  • Do you have heartburn?
  • Are you coughing? If so, what does it look like?
  • Do you take blood pressure medication? If so, which type do you take?
  • When does your cough occur?
  • Is there anything that relieves your cough? What treatments have you tried?
  • Are you more short of breath or wheezing with exertion? Or when exposed to cold air?
  • What is your travel story?

Your doctor will ask additional questions based on your answers, symptoms and needs. Preparing for and anticipating questions will help you get the most out of your time with the doctor.

By Mayo Clinic staff

(Video) Chronic Cough | 3 Most Common Causes & Approach to Causes


What is the best treatment for chronic cough? ›

Lifestyle and home remedies
  • Drink fluids. Liquid helps thin the mucus in your throat. ...
  • Suck on cough drops or hard candies. They may ease a dry cough and soothe an irritated throat.
  • Consider taking honey. A teaspoon of honey may help loosen a cough. ...
  • Moisturize the air. ...
  • Avoid tobacco smoke.
Jul 9, 2019

How do you diagnose chronic cough? ›

Often a chronic cough is a symptom of another disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma or pulmonary fibrosis. If you have one of these diseases and work with your healthcare provider to manage the condition, your cough might improve or go away.

What are the 4 most common causes of chronic cough? ›

While it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the problem that's triggering a chronic cough, the most common causes are tobacco use, postnasal drip, asthma and acid reflux. Fortunately, chronic cough typically disappears once the underlying problem is treated.

Can doctors do anything for persistent cough? ›

If you do get medical care for your cough, a doctor will often treat it by addressing the underlying cause. Some examples of treatment include: antihistamines or decongestants for allergies and postnasal drip. antibiotics for bacterial infections.

Why do I have a cough that won't go away but I'm not sick? ›

Dozens of conditions can cause a recurrent, lingering cough, but the lion's share are caused by just five: postnasal drip, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic bronchitis, and treatment with ACE inhibitors, used for high blood pressure and heart failure.

What can cause a cough to last for months? ›

The potential causes of a persistent cough include:
  • Asthma.
  • Chronic bronchitis.
  • Emphysema.
  • Environmental triggers, like recurrent exposure to dust or smoke.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Heart failure.
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)
  • Interstitial lung disease.
May 5, 2022

What specialist do you see for a chronic cough? ›

Chronic cough may be brought on by conditions of the lungs, sinuses, allergy issues or reflux. Following evaluation by your otolaryngologist (ENT) you may be referred to a pulmonologist or gastroenterologist to evaluate these underlying causes.

What is a chronic cough indicative of? ›

The most common causes of chronic cough are postnasal drip, asthma, and acid reflux from the stomach. These three causes are responsible for up to 90 percent of all cases of chronic cough. Less common causes include infections, medications, and lung diseases.

What does a chronic cough indicate? ›

A persistent cough may be caused by: a long-term respiratory tract infection, such as chronic bronchitis. asthma – this also usually causes other symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. an allergy.

What deficiency causes chronic cough? ›

Conclusions: Vitamin D deficiency is common among individuals with chronic cough, which tends to persist in adults with severe vitamin D deficiency. Routine vitamin D assay may be relevant in patients with refractory chronic cough.

What is the difference between cough and chronic cough? ›

A cough is considered acute when it lasts fewer than three weeks and chronic when it lasts more than eight weeks. There's also a middle category—a cough is subacute if it lasts three to eight weeks. Acute cough is common.

What is the difference between chronic cough and persistent cough? ›

Chronic cough is a persistent cough that lasts for at least eight weeks, and often much longer.

Why will my persistent cough not go away? ›

Coughs that persist after a common cold or other upper respiratory infection are called post-infectious or post-viral coughs. They can linger for three to eight weeks after a viral infection. There are two common causes of a post-viral cough in adults: Postnasal drip, when mucus drains into your throat.

Should I see a pulmonologist for chronic cough? ›

You should see a pulmonologist if that cough persists for more than 3 weeks, or if it becomes severe. This should be done in consultation with your primary care doctor.

Why does my cough never go away? ›

A cough that lasts longer than 8 weeks may be a symptom of several conditions, including asthma, allergies, acid reflux, or some respiratory conditions. It could also be caused by smoking or the use of certain medications.

What does it mean if I have a bad cough but no other symptoms? ›

Even a cough by itself with no other symptoms should be checked out by a physician if it lasts longer than a week. It could still be nothing serious, but this is a good point at which it makes sense to see a physician for peace of mind.

How come I have a cough but don't feel sick? ›

A cough that occurs without a fever may be due to irritation in the throat or the inhalation of a foreign object. If a person does not notice an improvement in their cough after several weeks, they should consult a doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Is it normal to cough without being sick? ›

While an occasional cough is normal, a cough that persists may be a sign of a medical problem. A cough is considered "acute" if it lasts less than three weeks.

What is a heart cough? ›

What is a heart cough? In heart failure, your heart muscle has dysfunction that might be due to weak contraction or stiffness. This can allow fluid to back up in yout lungs, creating a condition called pulmonary edema. Your body coughs persistently in an effort to eliminate the excess fluid.

When should you worry about a persistent cough? ›

Call your doctor if your cough (or your child's cough) doesn't go away after a few weeks or if it also involves any one of these: Coughing up thick, greenish-yellow phlegm. Wheezing. Experiencing a fever.

How long is too long for a cough? ›

But how long would a cough have to last before I should see a doctor? A. Medically speaking, a persistent (or chronic) cough is one that lasts more than three to four weeks. The most common reason for a new cough is an upper respiratory infection from the common cold, which is usually caused by a virus.

Is there a surgery for a chronic cough? ›

Laparoscopic antireflux surgery (LARS) is highly effective in the treatment of select patients with chronic cough. Surgery.

What diseases have coughing as a symptom? ›

Medical conditions that can cause acute and subacute cough
  • Cold.
  • Flu.
  • Acute bronchitis or bronchiolitis.
  • Sinusitis.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Whooping cough (also called pertussis).
  • Asthma.
  • Allergies.
Jan 22, 2022

What are the 4 types of cough? ›

The four main types of coughs are: wet, dry, paroxysmal and croup. Most coughs do go away on their own.

What does thyroid cough sound like? ›

For most people, this cough is a dry, hacking sort of cough.” In addition to cough, thyroid growth can lead to pressing on the vocal cords and a hoarse voice, or pressing on the esophagus and difficulty swallowing food. You may also notice swelling or pain in the front of your lower neck, and even into your ears.

Can low vitamin D cause chronic cough? ›

25(OH)D deficiency in children was associated with increased frequency of recurrent respiratory infections and chronic cough.

Can a chronic cough be harmless? ›

Even chronic coughs often have a treatable cause. They can result from conditions like postnasal drip or allergies. Only rarely are they a symptom of cancer or other potentially life threatening lung conditions.

What is a GERD cough? ›

The GERD cough is a dry cough that worsens at night and lasts longer than 8 weeks. GERD occurs when part of the stomach's acidic content move up through the throat. Often times people experience heartburn which does not resolve with antacids.

Can a chronic cough damage your lungs? ›

Don't worry—despite the old phrase, it's physically impossible to “cough up a lung.” Instead, persistent and violent coughing may lead to: Damaged blood vessels – Pressure from an intense cough may cause some of the delicate blood vessels in the eyes, nose or anus to rupture.

What does it mean if a cough doesn't go away? ›

A persistent cough may be caused by: a long-term respiratory tract infection, such as chronic bronchitis. asthma – this also usually causes other symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. an allergy.

What kind of doctor should I see for a chronic cough? ›

Chronic cough may be brought on by conditions of the lungs, sinuses, allergy issues or reflux. Following evaluation by your otolaryngologist (ENT) you may be referred to a pulmonologist or gastroenterologist to evaluate these underlying causes.

Why do I get a tickle in my throat and can't stop coughing? ›

Share on Pinterest A tickle in the throat may be due to inflammation of the voice box, sinusitis, or a sore throat. A cough is a natural reaction to a foreign substance or irritation in the throat. However, the cough from a tickly throat can become chronic and linger.

How do you live with a chronic cough? ›

Managing Chronic Cough
  1. Avoid irritants. If you are aware of something that triggers your cough, try to decrease your exposure to this irritant.
  2. Drink lots of fluids. This can help thin mucus and will keep you hydrated.
  3. Avoid tobacco smoke. ...
  4. Soothe your throat. ...
  5. Moisturize the air.
Mar 30, 2023

When should I be worried about a cough that won't go away? ›

Call your doctor if your cough (or your child's cough) doesn't go away after a few weeks or if it also involves any one of these: Coughing up thick, greenish-yellow phlegm. Wheezing. Experiencing a fever.

Why do I feel like I have mucus stuck in my throat all the time? ›

Postnasal drip refers to excess mucus that someone may feel in the back of the nose and throat, causing a constant need to clear the throat. It may lead to symptoms, such as a sore throat and trouble swallowing. Environmental triggers, such as allergies, cold weather, or dry air, may cause postnasal drip.

How do you treat a GERD cough? ›

How can I stop a GERD cough?
  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Those who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop GERD.
  2. Stop smoking. Smoking can affect the way the esophageal sphincter functions. ...
  3. Elevate the head of your bed. ...
  4. Eat slowly.
  5. Don't lie down after you eat. ...
  6. Avoid tight-fitting clothing.
Nov 21, 2019

How do you cure a cough that won't go away? ›

How do I get rid of a cough that won't go away? Getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated is typically recommended to help ease coughing. You can also try natural remedies, such as peppermint tea with honey, or talk with a healthcare professional about OTC or prescription treatment options.

When is a chronic cough serious? ›

Common causes for chronic cough include asthma, postnasal drip and acid reflux. Treatment depends on the underlying cause. If you're an adult with a cough that's lasted more than two months or if your child's cough lasts more than four weeks, you should contact a healthcare provider to find out why.

What are three causes of chronic cough? ›

The most common causes of chronic cough are postnasal drip, asthma, and acid reflux from the stomach. These three causes are responsible for up to 90 percent of all cases of chronic cough.


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