Constant Cough

How to Determine the Cause of a Constant Cough, and How to Get Relief

A constant cough is most often related to one of the following: asthma, postnasal drip, or acid reflux.  Here are some guidelines to help you figure out what may be causing your cough, and basic advice on treatments.  This information is not intended to replace the advice of a health care professional, but to give you an idea what you’re dealing with before seeking further help.


If you have never been tested for asthma and you have been coughing more than 2 months, consider things in your environment that you may be allergic to.  Adults who did not have asthma as children can develop it later in life. Allergies are related to asthma, because if the allergy is severe enough it hinders respiration. You may have wheezing or difficulty breathing in addition to a cough. Once you start a regimen for treatment, your cough will be greatly reduced, if not gone altogether.  Some popular treatments are Advair and other inhalants, and pills such as Singulair.  A licensed physician can do asthma screening.  Start with your general practitioner and he or she will lead you to the correct department or specialist.

Acid Reflux

This condition causes stomach acid to back up into the throat.  The acid irritates the gentle throat tissues, thus the cough. Treatments over the counter or from your doctor will alleviate acid reflux, also called GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.  TV ads for acid reflux medicines are endless – Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid are just a few.  Try these after you have tried the following lifestyle changes with no success:

Avoid fatty foods, and acidic foods like orange juice, tomatoes, and red wine.

Try to manage your weight.  Excess weight can cause digestive problems often associated with GERD.

Do not eat for 2 or 3 hours before bedtime, and eat small meals whenever possible.

Raise the head of your bed up several inches, either with pillows or an adjustable bed.

Postnasal drip

You know you have postnasal drip when you have a runny or stuffy nose and it feels as if liquid is stuck in your throat.  However, there are cases where the only symptom is a cough.  This can be treated with over the counter antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays with an ingredient called ipratropium (brand name: Atrovert), or with prescription steroids.

There are other causes of a constant cough, far less common than the top 3, including lung disease, infections, and medication side effects.  If you have ruled out the most common causes, ask a health care professional for tests for disease or infection, and go over your medications.  Your doctor should know if any of the medications are related to coughing.  The most common culprit is high blood pressure medicine.

Infections linked to a constant cough include the common cold, which can result in coughing for several months due to accompanying postnasal drip (see above).  Or chronic bronchitis, which requires a special diagnostic test.  If your cough is accompanied by phlegm, bronchitis is a possibility.

Lung cancer is the least likely cause of continual coughing.  One symptom of this cancer is coughing up blood.  If you have quit smoking and it’s been over 8 weeks, yet still your cough persists, lung cancer should be checked for.