What is causing my lingering cough?
Ever had a cough that just won’t quit? You got over every other symptom of that cold weeks ago, but the cough just keeps sticking around. Or maybe a lingering dry cough has appeared out of nowhere, making you worry about what might be going wrong that you don’t know about. Kayla LaFaver, DO, explained what might be causing your lingering cough and how to find relief.
What can cause a lingering cough?
There are four main causes of a lingering cough, including:
- Allergies (allergic rhinitis and postnasal drip)
- Acid reflux (GERD)
- Respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD
“Certain medications like angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or nasal sprays can have a lingering cough as a potential side effect,” said Dr. LaFaver. “If your cough didn’t begin until after you began taking a new medication, the medicine itself may be the cause.”
How long can a cough linger after illness?
Cough caused by illness can last up to two weeks after the infection itself has resolved, in normal cases. However, in around 5–15% of patients, lingering cough may last longer than a month. This is especially common after a COVID-19 infection.
Is a lingering cough a symptom of cancer?
“Lingering cough without any other symptoms is not a common sign of cancer,” said Dr. LaFaver. “The exception there would be certain risk factors like tobacco use. Lingering cough caused by cancer will also involve other notable symptoms like swollen lymph nodes, unexplained weight loss, blood in your saliva or shortness of breath. Any of these symptoms definitely need to be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.”
Can a lingering cough damage your lungs?
A rough cough can often leave you breathless or feel like you’re going to tear up your lungs if it keeps up. Coughing itself cannot damage your lungs, but the increased pressure caused by it can lead to ruptured blood vessels or bright red patches in the whites of your eyes or nosebleeds.
Why is my cough worse at night?
“In short, because of your posture,” said Dr. LaFaver. “Lying flat makes it easier for excess acid, in the case of acid reflux/GERD, or excess mucous from postnasal drip and allergies to get into your airways, causing irritation and resulting in the cough.”
Many people who struggle with a lingering cough notice it most commonly just after they go to bed but before they fall asleep. In some cases, sleeping at an angle instead of flat can help to alleviate the cough.
Is there anything I can do to help my cough at home?
“That depends on what’s causing your cough,” said Dr. LaFaver. “If it’s caused by allergies, an over-the-counter antihistamine like Claritin or Zyrtec can help. Nasal sprays like Flonase are also helpful for allergies, but take care not to rely too heavily on them, as they can cause other issues with prolonged everyday use.”
For symptoms caused by acid reflux, including lingering cough, bloating, abdominal pain or heartburn, trying an over-the-counter medicine like Nexium or Prilosec can help to minimize symptoms and discomfort.
For a cough caused by medications like ACE inhibitors, speak to the prescribing doctor about other medication options that might be available and get their advice on what to do.
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