Cant Stop Coughing? – Common Causes Of A Lingering Cough

Common Causes Of A Lingering CoughA recent telephone survey published in the Annals Of Family Medicine found the average person expects a cough to last 7-9 days, but the actual cough lingers closer to 18 days. If your cough has exceeded the 18-day mark you could be suffering from chronic cough, stress, obstructive sleep apnea, or dehydration.  The exact time frame that your cough lingers has a lot to do with the cause of your cough.

Lingering Cough Caused By The Common Cold

Even after the common cold disappears, an annoying cough can linger around for many weeks. That’s because a cold causes your airways to become swollen and sensitive, and your airways may take several weeks to fully recover. You likely don’t need an antibiotic for a lingering cough caused by a cold. Instead, your cough simply needs time to heal and go away.

There are two types of coughs that linger following a cold. The first type is a postnasal drip or mucus cough, which includes your body’s attack on the cold virus collecting in your throat and causing you to cough. This type of cough is benefited by over the counter medications, which break up mucus and suppress your cough reflex. These medications are not capable of killing the virus that caused the cough and they won’t make the cough go away; they simply help decrease symptoms.

The second type of cough associated with a cold is known as a post-inflammatory bronchospasm, which resembles asthma. While it’s not asthma, nor is it chronic like asthma, it is still uncomfortable and causes tightening of your airways. This restriction of airflow results in coughing and wheezing. In some cases, you may need to take asthma medications to help clear up symptoms. This type of cough can linger for 4 weeks. Post-inflammatory bronchospasm is usually worse at night and when you exercise.

Chronic Cough

Any cough that lasts for more than 8 weeks is considered a chronic cough. One or more of the following causes around 90% of all chronic coughs:



-Acid reflux disease

In order to determine the cause of your chronic cough, you may need to undergo a lung X-Ray and answer questions about your medical history.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea may be to blame for your nonstop coughing if you’re also experiencing:


-Loud snoring

-Choking or gasping during the night

-Waking up throughout the night

-Feeling tired throughout the day


If you are stressed out, it’s going to take your body longer to fight off a cold, as well as the lingering cough that comes with. Do anything you can to limit stress, and resist pushing yourself too much until you make a full recovery. Try meditating during the day and make sure you are getting a solid 7-8 hours of sleep every night.


If you do not drink enough fluids you allow more mucus to build up in your airways, provoking a cough. Caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate you further; so if you do drink these beverages make sure to drink even more water to combat the effects. Increase the amount of beneficial moisture in your airways by using a humidifier or saline nasal spray. 

Overusing Over-The-Counter Nasal Decongestant Spray

You shouldn’t use most OTC nasal decongestant sprays for more than 3 days, otherwise when you stop taking them you’ll notice a rebound effect. As a result, your symptoms will worsen and your nasal membranes will swell, causing congestion, postnasal drip and coughing.

Blood Pressure Medication

Around 1 in 5 people that take an ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure experience a chronic cough. Don’t stop taking the medication without talking to your doctor first.


Your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine to help address a cough related to allergies and subsequent postnasal drip. While on the antihistamine, you should see an improvement within a couple weeks. If you experience no improvement at all, the next step may be to get an inhaler for asthma. If that doesn’t help, the next step is reflux medications like Nexium or Prilosec, as well as lifestyle changes. This type of treatment can take up to 6 months to evaluate.

Chronic Cough Hypersensitivity Syndrome

If none of the treatments outlined above work to cease your cough, you may have a rare condition known as chronic cough hypersensitivity, or an over responsive cough reflex. This condition will cause you to become oversensitive and cough when exposed to triggers that do not cause others to cough.

When Is A Lingering Cough Something To Worry About?

-Your post-cold cough lingers for more than a few weeks.

-Your cough hits you out of nowhere, you have not had a cold and you are not a smoker.

-Your cough is accompanied by fever or pain; this could be a sign of a bacterial infection such as a sinus infection, bronchitis or pneumonia. All of these can be triggered by the common cold. Visit Urgent Medical Center as soon as possible in order to get an antibiotic or any other treatment you need to start feeling better.

The Best Urgent Care in South Florida is Waiting for You

Don’t wait. Experience the availability and affordability that you need. Walk-ins welcome.
happy portrait and elderly woman doctor