Six Causes of a Persistent Cough and When to be Concerned

Woman with persistent cough trying to work from home

Typically, a cough is a sign of allergies or illness. But your cough is normally sporadic and only lasts a few days. But if you’re coughing all day, every day, something going on.

But sometimes, coughs can hang around for a long time. You aren’t feeling sick but your cough is hanging around stubbornly. You cough at the supermarket, at the movies (and get some dirty looks too), in your car, everywhere. And you’re really wondering: when will this cough go away?

Should I be worried if I’m dealing with a persistent cough? Sometimes, a persistent cough is really irritating but nothing much to be concerned about, but sometimes it can be a sign of an underlying illness. It’s a smart plan to try and figure out what’s happening in either case.

When you can’t stop coughing it’s pretty annoying

It can be really aggravating, coughing constantly. That’s because a cough isn’t particularly a gentle experience. Those violent blasts of escaping air can have a negative effect on your life even if your persistent cough is fairly mild.

Your general quality of life can be affected by a persistent cough in a couple of ways:

  • Trouble eating: A cough that is very persistent can make eating somewhat of a challenge. It’s particularly difficult for food to go down when air is coming up (but it will probably come with some increased choking and coughing). Consequently, a chronic cough can make eating difficult.
  • Trouble sleeping: Even a light cough can wake you up from slumber, or keep you from falling asleep in the first place. When you’re starting to fall asleep and you’re woken by a coughing attack, nothing could be more annoying.
  • Social stigma: Everyone is still worried about catching Covid. That’s justifiable and likely smart! In part because of this, however, anybody who coughs immediately becomes a persona non grata. People will try to keep their distance from you, avoid eye contact, and basically pretend you don’t exist. Even if your cough isn’t contagious, you’ll likely still experience a high degree of social stigma. And that’s not enjoyable for anyone.

What identifies a persistent cough?

So, how do you tell a persistent cough from a lingering cold? Well, one of the basic diagnostic factors is duration: how long have you been coughing? A chronic persistent cough, generally speaking, is one that lingers for more than 6-8 weeks.

There are other symptoms that can accompany a persistent cough, though. Those symptoms include:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Losing weight
  • Post nasal drip
  • In some instances, a fever or cough
  • Heartburn
  • Sweating overnight
  • A sore throat (especially if you’re clearing your throat frequently)
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath

The severity of these symptoms will differ on a case by case basis. You should have a conversation with your doctor about treatment options if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

What causes a persistent cough?

You should have your persistent cough checked out because it will normally be a symptom of some other root condition. These conditions can be more or less serious.

The most prevalent causes include the following:

    Pulmonary diseases such as this can often be slowed, but not necessarily cured.
  • Sinus problems: Your sinuses are large cavities found inside your face. Issues with your sinuses (like infections) can trigger post nasal drip, and that post nasal drip can cause a cough. Depending on the root cause, medication or sometimes surgery will be used to treat a sinus infection.
  • Lung diseases: Lots of lung diseases, like COPD, asthma, and pulmonary fibrosis, can lead to chronic coughing. Asthma is relatively common and can often be effectively managed with lifestyle choices and medications. However, diseases like COPD are more difficult to manage. COPD is degenerative and can impact your breathing over time. It might also cause you to cough more.
  • Smoking: This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody now, but smoking can cause significant issues for your general health. It can cause a chronic cough as well as all manner of other lung issues. If you’re fortunate, this cough is caused by tar and other contaminants stuck in your lungs. Long-term damage as a consequence of smoking might also be the cause of your cough if you’re less fortunate. Your lungs will thank you if you quit smoking immediately, either way.
  • Digestive issues: In some cases, acid reflux or a disease called GERD can also cause you to cough. In these situations, your body is reacting to the stomach acid or bile that’s traveling up your esophagus. It’s about as enjoyable as it sounds. In these situations, you’ll want to consult your doctor about the best way to manage your digestive problems.
  • Medications: Some medications can cause coughing. Consult your provider who will be able to inform you about these types of reactions. There might be alternative medication possibilities that don’t cause the same reaction.
  • Allergies: Most individuals think of sneezing as a sign of allergies. But sometimes there are other reactions. Coughing can also be caused by allergies. If you determine that your persistent cough is more prevalent in the spring or summer, for instance, you may want to ask your provider if they think you might be dealing with allergies. And you will get a lot of insight from an allergy test.

When to be worried about your persistent cough

So, when is it time to worry? Your cough will go away on its own in most situations. The time to contact your provider is when your cough isn’t responding to over-the-counter medication and lasts for over 6-8 weeks.

Even if your cough subsides, it’s never a bad idea to take a closer look at the health of your lungs, your throat, and your pulmonary system. Make an appointment with us as soon as possible!


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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