Coughing is a reflex that eliminates particles and secretions from the lungs. It is a body's protective mechanism. Acute cough is characteristic for many illnesses, predominantly lung infections and infections of the upper respiratory tract. Such cough subsides soon after the treatment for the underlying cause is initiated. However, sometimes cough does not subside, but instead progresses into a chronic medical issue.
Unlike acute cough, chronic cough lasts for at least 8 weeks. The underlying cause can be quite benign. However, the condition still bothers people, makes it hard for them to fall asleep and physically exhausts them. There is prolonged strain of the chest muscles, and if it is severe enough, cough may even cause dizzy spells. In women chronic cough my be a contributor to urine leakage. Unfortunately, chronic cough is sometimes a sign of more complex and even deadly medical conditions.
Common Causes of Chronic Cough
There are three major contributors of chronic cough, postnasal drip, asthma and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Postnasal drip is a health issue characterized by dripping of secretions from the nasal cavity or sinuses into the throat. These secretions irritate the throat and cause chronic cough.
Asthma is another cause of chronic cough. Apart from cough there may also be shortness of breath and wheezing. Cough associated with asthma is most commonly seasonal, occurs with upper respiratory infections and gets even worse when one is exposed to cold or dry air.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is characterized by irritation of the esophagus due to regurgitated stomach acid.
Less Common Causes of Chronic Cough
Other, less common causes of chronic cough syndrome include infections, medications and certain lung conditions.
Respiratory tract infections such as cold may be responsible for cough that lasts more than 8 weeks. Such cough is then a consequence of already mentioned postnasal drip or develops as a result of damage to the mucous membrane of the airways.
Intake of some drugs (e.g. ACE inhibitors) may initiate cough. The cough lasts as long as an individual takes the prescribed drug and subsides soon after the treatment is changed.
Chronic bronchitis is another less common cause of chronic cough. Furthermore, the problem may be also associated with lung cancer. This cough, apart from being persistent, eventually leads to coughing up blood or mucus mixed with blood.
Finally, chronic cough is a sign of eosinophilic bronchitis, a specific inflammation of the airways that develops due to activation of too many mast cells.