Reason 1: Irritated Airways After a Cold or Flu
The most common cause of chronic cough is predictable. It's the aftermath of a cold or other viral infection, says Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. Most cold symptoms may go away after a few days. Your cough, though, can hang around for weeks because viruses can cause your airways to become swollen and oversensitive. This can last long after the virus is gone.
Reason 2: Underlying Health Problems
Acid reflux and obstructive sleep apnea can also cause a chronic cough. Fortunately, these conditions are treatable. See your doctor for diagnosis and treatment if you have symptoms of acid reflux, including:
- Ongoing cough
Also see your doctor if you have any symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, such as:
Reason 3: Stress
Stress, especially when it's chronic, can make colds last longer. To beat back a lingering cough, slow down and ease stress while you're sick. Pushing yourself too hard might just make you sicker. One way to relax is to rest more: Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.
Reason 4: Not Drinking Enough Fluids
When you have a cold or the flu, you need to drink a lot of fluids. Water, juice, and soup can help loosen mucus in your airways so you can cough it up and out. Alcohol and drinks with caffeine in them are not helpful choices because they can dehydrate you -- the opposite of what you need when you're sick. Another way to add moisture to your airways is by using a saline nasal spray or a humidifier.
Reason 5: Overusing OTC Nasal Decongestant Spray
Over-the-counter (OTC) nasal decongestant sprays may help with a stuffy nose. Don't use them for more than 3 days, though. If you do, when you finally stop taking them, your symptoms may be worse -- a rebound effect. Those excess sprays make your nasal membranes swell, which triggers more congestion, postnasal drip, and coughing.
Reason 6: Air That's Too Dry or Too Moist
"Dry air -- especially common in the winter -- can irritate a cough," Edelman says. On the other hand, cranking up the humidifier too high isn't helpful, either. Moist air can be a trigger for asthma and encourage the growth of dust mites and mold, allergens that may start you hacking.
"People should aim for humidity levels of 40% to 50% in their homes, winter and summer," Edelman says.
Reason 7: Bacterial Infection
Sometimes, a cold can leave behind an unwelcome parting gift. When your airways are raw and irritated after a cold, it's easier for bacteria to invade. Bacteria can cause sinus infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia. If you have a fever or pain along with your lingering cough, a bacterial infection could be the reason. See your doctor, as you may need to take an antibiotic.
Reason 8: Your Blood Pressure Medicine
Do you take an ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure? If so, that may be why your cough won't quit. About 1 out of 5 people who take ACE inhibitors develop a chronic, dry cough as a side effect. If you have this side effect, don't just stop taking it but do talk to your doctor. Another drug may work better for you. There are many available ACE inhibitors, including:
- Aceon (perindopril)
- Accupril (quinapril)
- Altace (ramipril)
- Capoten (captopril)
- Lotensin, Lotrel (benazepril)
- Mavik, Tarka (trandolapril)
- Monopril (fosinopril)
- Prinivil, Zestril (lisinopril)
- Uniretic, Univasc (moexipril)
- Vasotec (enalapril)
If the generic name of your medicine or any ingredient in your combination medicine ends with "pril," there's a good chance it's an ACE inhibitor.
If your cough is severe or isn’t getting better after a week, call your doctor. Together, you can find out what’s causing your cough and make sure you get the right treatment.