What is a persistent cough?

Coughing is your body’s defensive reflex that keeps your airways clear of irritating or obstructing substances (e.g., mucus) so you can breathe effectively. A cough can be dry or it can be productive, meaning that you are coughing up mucus (also known as phlegm or sputum). A cough is one of the most common reasons people visit their primary care doctor.

Primary care physicians often categorize coughs into acute (lasting less than three weeks), subacute (lasting three to eight weeks), and persistent (lasting eight weeks or longer).

A persistent cough is a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions including infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, airway obstruction, and other abnormal processes.

A persistent cough can be due to fairly mild conditions, such as postnasal drip following a cold. A persistent cough in someone who smokes is usually due to smoking and may lead to chronic bronchitis. A persistent cough can also be due to life-threatening diseases including congestive heart failure or tuberculosis. Allergic problems and certain medications can cause cough as well. Some individuals taking angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) experience a persistent dry cough, which ceases with drug discontinuation.

A persistent cough can be a sign of a serious or life-threatening disorder. If you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, swollen legs or ankles, or are coughing up blood or pink, frothy mucus, seek immediate medical care (call 911).  Coughing up blood or pink, frothy mucus is a sign of pulmonary edema, which can lead to respiratory arrest. Any sign of blood is a potentially serious problem.


What other symptoms might occur with a cough?

A persistent cough may occur in conjunction with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. Some symptoms, such as sounds the lungs make while you are breathing, changes in blood pressure, and low blood oxygen levels may only be evident using certain instruments in the doctor’s office... Read more about persistent coughsymptoms


What causes a persistent cough?

The most common causes of a persistent cough are asthma, postnasal drip, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A persistent cough is not usually due to infection, although there are infectious diseases that are associated with a chronic cough. Less commonly, a persistent cough is due to life-threatening c... Read more about persistent coughcauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration, Sinusitis

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