Persistent Cough: Causes and Treatment

Tamera Jackson by Tamera Jackson | Licensed since 2007
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This article was updated on: 08/14/2018

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According to the Cleveland Clinic, a persistent cough is one of the most common causes for a doctor visit. A persistent cough is defined as one that lasts for eight weeks or longer in adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, an occasional cough is normal and can help clear irritants and secretions from your lungs. However, a persistent cough can interfere with sleep and leave you feeling exhausted. Constant coughing can also cause vomiting, lightheadedness and even rib fractures.

What causes a persistent cough?

  • Smoking: the Mayo Clinic cites smoking (current or past) as one of the leading risk factors for a persistent cough. Most people who have chronic bronchitis are also current or former smokers.
  • Postnasal drip: this is when your sinuses produce extra mucus that can drip down your throat and trigger a cough reflex, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Asthma: An asthma-related cough may be triggered by cold air, fragrances, chemicals, or seasonal allergens according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): is a condition where stomach acid flows into the esophagus, causing constant irritation according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Infections: An infection such as pneumonia, flu, and cold can cause a persistent cough according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Blood pressure medication: may cause persistent cough in some people according to the Mayo Clinic.

Other causes of persistent cough according to Mayo Clinic include cystic fibrosis, aspiration of food, damaged airways, and lung cancer.

What is the treatment for a persistent cough?

Before a doctor treats you for persistent cough, she must determine the cause of the persistent cough, according to the Mayo Clinic. A doctor may use a scope to look at your lungs and air passages. The doctor may also test mucus that you cough up for bacteria. An X-ray won’t reveal common causes of persistent cough including postnasal drip, acid reflux or asthma. An x-ray may reveal lung cancer or pneumonia.

Treatments that a doctor may prescribe or recommend for persistent cough according to Mayo Clinic include:

  • Antihistamines and decongestants
  • Inhaled asthma medications which reduce inflammation and open airways
  • Antibiotics if your persistent cough is caused by a bacterial infection
  • Acid blockers
  • Cough suppressants

Lifestyle remedies you can try include:

  • Drinking warm liquids such as tea or soup
  • Sucking on cough drops
  • Using a humidifier
  • Avoid smoking and breathing second-hand smoke

Does Medicare cover a persistent cough?

Medicare Part A may cover you if you require hospitalization for a persistent cough and Medicare Part B may cover you if you require a doctor visit for a chronic cough. Additional coverage from private insurance companies may help with costs associated with chronic cough. Medicare Part D Prescription drug coverage from a private insurance company may cover medications a doctor prescribes to help treat your chronic cough. Medicare Supplement plans from a private insurance company may help cover copayments, coinsurance and deductibles associated with doctor visits, tests, and x-rays.

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