Several Reasons Why You Can't Stop Coughing

Sometimes you know the reason why you can't stop coughing. Other times you don't. The obvious thing to do is ask your doctor what the problem is. You explain to your doctor what kind of coughing you're experiencing, when you're most likely to cough, and how long a typical coughing spell lasts. Having done all that, you might be surprised to find out your doctor doesn't really know why you can't stop coughing.

It isn't that your doctor doesn't know what makes people cough. It's just that there are many different things that can lead to lengthy, persistent, or even chronic bouts of coughing. If you look at coughing as a symptom of something, which it is, it isn't a symptom that always provides a lot of information a doctor can use, unless accompanied by additional symptoms.

We are taught that when a problem, like coughing, persists over a long period of time, we should do something about it, because it might be an indication of something serious. That's very good advice, but it's possible to have a chronic cough and be reasonably healthy at the same time. If you do see a doctor about your coughing, the question you are most likely to be asked is how long the coughing has been going on. Your answer may give the doctor something he or she can work with.

Acute Cough - When you can't stop coughing, and it's been going on for a week or two, it would be called an acute cough. An acute cough is the cough that accompanies a cold, the flu, or some other respiratory aliment. Until the ailment is cleared up, the coughing is likely to continue, and there usually isn't much that can be done about it, although some medications will provide at least temporary relief. If a viral infection is the cause, the cough is unlikely to remain until the virus goes away on its own. In the case of an acute cough, there may be little a doctor can do, or see a need to do.

If your extended coughing spell has lasted somewhat longer, say a month or more, your doctor is probably going to take a closer look at the situation, and may do some tests to see what the underlying cause might be. A cough lasting more than a month doesn't necessarily mean there's something seriously wrong with you, but it still should be looked into to see if there is anything that requires treatment.

Chronic Cough - When you can't stop coughing, and it's been going on for several months, you have a chronic cough. A cough that lasts that long is actually easier for a doctor to diagnose. There are far fewer causes of chronic coughing than there are of acute coughing. If you are a smoker, the reason you can't stop coughing should be apparent. Even if you quit, which would be an excellent idea, the cough will probably persist for some time, but will eventually go away, unless of course your lungs or airways have been permanently scarred.

If you do have a chronic cough, here are five of the more common causes, some of which are curable and some of which are not, but most are at least treatable:

  • COPD – Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a disease of the lungs. It can either be a case of chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Neither condition is curable, though chronic bronchitis is treatable, and emphysema sometimes is.


  • Postnasal Drip – Postnasal drip is another name for a condition known as chronic upper airway cough syndrome. Here, the air passages become easily inflamed when one has the flu or a bacterial infection, and tend to remain that way, at least for some time. In such a case, coughing may persist long after a cold or the flu has gone away. The same can be said for the aftermath of pneumonia.
  • Acute Bronchitis – Acute bronchitis is different from chronic bronchitis (see COPD) in that it eventually goes away. The symptoms of acute bronchitis usually go away in a week or two, but coughing can continue for several weeks or more. If not, your doctor should have a look, as there is always a possibility that chronic bronchitis has entered the picture.


  • Medications – One type of medication that is apt to cause a persistent, dry cough is an ACE inhibitor, a medication used to treat those having high blood pressure or a serious heart condition. The cough may be present as long as the medication is being taken, and may continue on for some time after one has ceased taking the medication. About 20% of those taking ACE inhibitors develop a persistent, dry cough.
  • GERD – Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a frequent cause of chronic coughing. This disease is usually easily diagnosed when the coughing is accompanied by heartburn, wheezing, or chest pains.


Asthma and allergies can also cause chronic coughing, but as far as “can't stop coughing” is concerned, the coughing is usually not present except during an asthmatic attack or when an allergen is present.