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How do I Treat a Persistent Cough?

A. Pasbjerg
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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Coughing can be a symptom of a variety of different disorders and illnesses. Often it will resolve when the disease resolves, or only happen periodically due to certain ongoing issues, but some people may develop a chronic, persistent cough. To determine the best course of treatment, it is important for sufferers to consult with a doctor so the underlying problem is correctly identified.

One of the most common reasons for a persistent cough is smoking. In addition to a myriad of other health problems caused by smoking, it irritates the throat and lungs, which can lead to what is commonly referred to as a smoker's cough. The best course of action to alleviate this is to quit smoking; as long as a person continues to smoke, he or she is introducing the trigger for the cough.

Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections can all lead to a persistent cough. There are numerous diseases that may be to blame; some common culprits are bronchitis, pneumonia, and the common cold. Sinus infections that cause post-nasal drip may also irritate the throat and cause an ongoing cough. Depending on the cause of the infection, antibiotics or anti-viral medication may help to clear it up. Over-the-counter cough suppressants, lozenges, and decongestants may all offer temporary symptom relief until the infection resolves.

A persistent cough may be the result of asthma. Asthma causes constriction of the airways, and patients typically experience coughing from time to time. Sometimes the cough becomes chronic, and in certain cases referred to as cough-variant asthma, it is the only symptom. These patients will typically be treated with the normal medications used for asthma, such as bronchodilators and steroids.

Another common cause of persistent cough is gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Patients with GERD may experience ongoing irritation and spasms in the esophagus as acid splashes back into it from the stomach, which can then lead to coughing. To help with this issue, GERD sufferers should avoid things that trigger their reflux, such as spicy foods, and take their usual medications such as antacids or H2 blockers.

In addition to medications, there are certain home remedies that can help soothe a persistent cough. Breathing steam by using a vaporizer or taking a hot shower may offer some relief. Drinking extra liquids can help to break up mucous; hot tea, especially with some honey added, can be particularly soothing and also helps increase fluid intake. For those with allergies, avoiding allergens and other irritants is recommended.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
A. Pasbjerg
By A. Pasbjerg
Andrea Pasbjerg, a WiseGeek contributor, holds an MBA from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her business background helps her to create content that is both informative and practical, providing readers with valuable insights and strategies for success in the business world.
Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Mar 08, 2011

I know a really good quick remedy for cough. I learned this from my friend. Apply Vicks rub on the bottom of feet and wear socks. Keep the feet and body warm. It relieves coughing in about five minutes. I tried it on my daughter and it really worked. She couldn't sleep because she was coughing so much. This method stopped the coughing and she went to sleep. It's not a permanent cough treatment, but it definitely provides some quick relief. Try it!

By discographer — On Mar 07, 2011

I learned that smoking is a cause of persistent dry cough when I was in college. My friends and I often spent our free time hanging out at a hookah cafe and smoking. It tasted much different than cigarettes and the tobacco came in different fruit flavors. I honestly thought that it was not very harmful.

When I went home during summer break, my mom realized that I was coughing a lot. I knew it too but ignored it, thought it would just go away. It was because of the smoking. My cough continued for weeks even though I wasn't smoking anymore. I haven't smoked hookah since then. I had only smoked it for several months before I started having a persistent cough. I later read some articles and found out that hookah is much worse than cigarettes. They say that one hour of hookah means inhaling at least 100 times more smoke than a cigarette. I can't imagine how bad it would have affected my health if I had continued.

By serenesurface — On Mar 06, 2011

I caught a cold and have been coughing for three weeks. I went to the doctor three days ago and he basically tackled all possible causes. I had an x-ray, an allergy test and blood tests done to check for infections or asthma. Everything came back good. The doctor sent me home and told me to come back if my cough persist beyond 6 weeks. Apparently, that's when it is considered to be chronic and dangerous.

I've been doing some remedies at home which have helped. I have herbal teas and fruit juice throughout the day. I'm also gargling my throat with warm water and salt. I'm doing better, the cough is almost gone. I guess sometimes, it takes a while to get through it.

A. Pasbjerg
A. Pasbjerg
Andrea Pasbjerg, a WiseGeek contributor, holds an MBA from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her business background helps her to create content that is both informative and practical, providing readers with valuable insights and strategies for success in the business world.
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