Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What should I do if my cough will not go away?"
I can't stop coughing. It has been three months and it just won't go away. It isn't all day, but I have coughing spells everyday for three months. What should I do? Do I have a chest infection or is something wrong with my lungs?
When a cough persists more than 6 weeks, it is chronic. Chronic cough is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of an underlying condition and the reason for a doctor visit. There are many potential causes of chronic coughs. You describe coughing spells daily but it is not really clear what might trigger your cough, or whether it is dry or productive, thin and clear or thick mucous, or whether you have blood in the sputum. Does it occur only in the morning, at certain time or place, or does it occur all the time? Do you get shortness of breath with cough or hear yourself wheeze (breathing noise as you breathe in)? Asthma is a frequent cause of chronic cough, but you would also get wheezes. Symptoms are better with an inhaler. Cigarette smoking often causes chronic cough (smoker's lung). Tobacco irritates your lungs and respiratory tract causing the cells to get inflamed and secrete mucous, which triggers a coughing reflex to get rid of the toxins. Coughing can also be provoked by residual common cold or bacterial or viral infections in the lungs (acute bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, etc). If your stomach acid moves backward up the esophagus, reflexes result in spasm of the airways that can cause shortness of breath and coughing. This acid reflux is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Sinus problems and postnasal drip can also cause a tickle in the throat that triggers frequent throat clearing. Tuberculosis and lung cancer can also present with coughing, often with weight loss and blood in the sputum. In a few cases, allergens or mold can be the source of a chronic cough. Potential causes for chronic coughs are many. Some are life threatening and you should follow up with a primary care provider who can differentiate what causes your cough and treat you accordingly.
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