Everybody coughs when the nerve endings in their airway get irritated. But a cough becomes chronic, or persistent, when it lasts eight weeks in an adult or four weeks in a child. Chronic cough gets in the way of everyday life and can make it hard to sleep or rest.
If your cough, or your child's, has gone on for weeks, it's time to get checked by your primary care doctor or pediatrician. If you or your child is having trouble breathing, call 911 or go to the nearest ER right away.
What Causes Chronic Cough?
Chronic cough isn't a disease by itself, but a symptom of something else. The most common causes include the following:
Other causes that are less common include the following:
- A cough that started with an illness and then became habitual
- Airway blockage or tumor
- Blood pressure medications known as ACE inhibitors
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Swallowing problems (aspiration)
- Whooping cough (pertussis)
Your cough could have more than one cause, so it's important to see a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating chronic cough and can give you a thorough assessment.
Diagnosing Chronic Cough
Diagnostic tests to find the cause of chronic cough might include the following:
- Bronchoscopy or endoscopy for a close-up look at your lungs or throat
- Imaging, such as an X-ray of your chest or a CT scan of your sinuses
- Lab tests to check for infection, including blood tests, sputum tests and nasal or throat swabs
- Lung function tests to see how well you're breathing
Chronic Cough Treatment at Rush
Treatment for Adults
It's possible that you'll see more than one Rush specialist. For example, if you have GERD, you may see both a gastroenterologist and an ENT. Or, if you have more than one airway condition, the Rush Sinus, Allergy & Asthma Center gives you a one-stop location for coordinated care. Our physicians share information and work together to make sure you have a seamless experience and get the right treatment quickly.
Your treatment will depend on what's causing your cough. Potential treatments include medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, acid blockers and inhalers, or surgical treatment if you have an airway blockage. If you smoke, we'll give you the help you need to quit.
Treatment for Kids
Rush offers specialized care for children with chronic cough in the Pediatric Aerodigestive Program, where pediatric ENT, gastroenterology and pulmonology specialists work together on a thorough evaluation, a personalized treatment plan and any support your family needs.
Rush Excellence in Chronic Cough Care
- Expertise to help you breathe easily again: Many cases of chronic cough are straightforward to diagnose and treat — but if yours isn't, you have the power of our expert team on your side. Our specialists work together to pinpoint the right diagnosis and coordinate the complex care you need.
- Specialized care for kids: If your child has a chronic cough related to a complex condition, the pediatric ENTs, pulmonologists and gastroenterologists in Rush's Pediatric Aerodigestive Program provide seamless multidisciplinary care that meets your family's needs.
- Convenient access to care: With locations throughout Chicago, Aurora/Fox Valley and the western suburbs, you can schedule appointments with some or all of your care team close to home.