The Cough That Just Won’t Go Away

By Martin Brown

Most of us have, at one time or another, suffered from a persistent nagging cough that simply will not go away. If that’s a problem you’re facing now or you have faced in the past there are a few important things that you should know.

First, a cough that lasts up to and beyond eight weeks is considered a chronic cough. Persistent coughs can become so bad that they can trigger vomiting, headaches and even fractured ribs.

Second, the unknown fact about persistent coughs is that they mask an underlying problem. They can be triggered by a variety of health issues ranging from postnasal drip, to asthma, to even acid reflux.

Third, the good news is that when you can correctly identify the underlying cause of a persistent cough, in almost every case you will alleviate the condition. That said, let’s take a closer look:

The most common root of a persistent cough is postnasal drip, which in one form or another is often instigated by your body’s reaction to allergens. This is particularly true during spring and summer months when outdoor allergens are at their peak. Allergies cause your nose and sinuses to go into mucus overload the result of which can drip down the back of your throat and therefore trigger the nagging cough. And remember that not all allergens are nature related; some are as close as that moldy down feather pillow you rest your head upon every night.

Allergies can also be at the root of asthma-related coughs  that can appear seasonally or come on as the result of an upper respiratory infection. These coughs can be triggered by everything from cold air to certain chemicals or fragrances. Most people are surprised to find out that this is a common type of asthma, known to medical professionals  as hyperactive airways disease, it afflicts tens of thousands of Americans and often strikes at the workplace. Think, for example, of the hairdresser working in an enclosed, air-conditioned space, surrounded by a variety of fragrances and chemical applications.

And let’s not forget our old friend, infection, which often causes a cough to stay with us long after it’s obvious symptoms have long since gone away.

People are surprised to hear that acid reflux can cause coughs, but it is more common than we would suspect. Acid, coming up from the stomach and irritating the upper digestive track, can travel as far up as the throat and lead to such acute inflammation that a cough results. Equally surprising is that blood pressure drugs have been known to quite often trigger chronic coughs.

Finally, don’t forget that chronic bronchitis can trigger chronic coughs. This persistent inflammation of the bronchial tubes can cause congestion, wheezing and breathlessness that are often accompanied by a cough that brings up discolored discharge. Sadly, most victims of this type of chronic bronchitis are current or recently reformed smokers.

When a cough is going into a third month it’s time to consider a visit to a medical professional. If expense is an issue start with a nurse practitioner. Often the most maddening coughs are subject to relatively simple solutions. But do pay attention to a chronic cough. It’s a message that something else is going on and after eight weeks, or longer, it’s time to find out what that is!



Martin Brown is the Heath Channel Editor for, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right.

Check out his book, Fit in 50 Days.