How do I get rid of a persistent cough?

Doctor's Answers 1

Cough is a reflex that protects your upper airway from foreign materials and irritants.

However, when persistent, it can be a troublesome symptom. The cause of a chronic or prolonged cough can range from conditions arising from the nose (e.g. Rhinitis and Sinusitis), stomach (e.g. acid reflux from the stomach to the throat, medically known as Laryngopharyngeal reflux or LPR) and lungs (e.g. Asthma, Bronchitis etc) to side effects from medications (e.g. blood pressure medications) and smoking.

If you have a wheeze associated with the cough and do get shortness of breath, you may have asthma and should see a GP or Respiratory Physician. Your GP or Respiratory Physician may perform a lung function test to determine how much air moves in and out as you breathe.

In my practice, the two most common causes of chronic cough are due to a postnasal drip (which can be due to Rhinitis or Sinusitis) and Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).

Postnasal drip refers to a feeling of mucous stuck at the back of the nose and throat. The mucous can cause inflammation of the voice box (larynx). As the voice box is a very sensitive organ, once it is inflamed, it can take weeks to months to recover.

When inflamed, the voice box is prone to causing cough, throat itchiness, frequent throat clearing and phlegm. It is important to treat the cause of the postnasal drip (for Rhinitis - with nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines, for Sinusitis - with a nose wash, nasal steroid spray and antibiotics) to allow the swelling on the voice box to resolve.

If the colour of your phlegm is yellow, brown or green, it may be infected (either from sinusitis or bronchitis) and you may need a course of oral antibiotics.

The voice box can also be inflamed from acid reflux from the stomach (LPR). Common symptoms from LPR include an irritative dry cough, feeling of something stuck in the throat, frequent throat clearing, sore throat and a hoarse voice.

These can be treated by modifying your lifestyle to prevent the reflux from happening and by taking acid suppressant medications.

You can visit an ENT Specialist who will likely perform a nasoendoscopy (small scope through the nose and down to the level of the voice box which is done under local anaesthesia) to help you rule out possible ENT causes.

Similar Questions

What could be cause of episodic, violent coughing?

Thank you for your question. Coughing during or after a cold is often due to postnasal drip (nose mucous dripping down the back of the throat, causing irritation and inflammation of the voice box). The voice box (medical term is larynx) is a very sensitive organ. Once inflamed, minor irritations of the voicebox (e. g from mucous, phelgm, saliva and in some people even a breath of dirty/cold air) will easily trigger a cough reflex. It takes time for the inflammation of the voice box to settle and often, treating conditions of the nose and acid reflux from the stomach may help.

Photo of Dr Eng Cern Gan

Answered By

Dr Eng Cern Gan

ENT Doctor

What could be the cause of chronic cough at night and in early morning? How can I stop the cough?

Thank you for your question. I’m sorry to hear that your mother is suffering from a prolonged and problematic cough which can be a complex condition. Coughing is a reflex that protects your upper airway and lungs from irritants such as excessive mucous and foreign bodies. When persistent, it is often a symptom of a condition, ranging from conditions arising from the nose & sinuses (e. g sensitive nose, sinus infections), lungs (e. g asthma and bronchitis), throat and stomach (e. g. acid reflux from the stomach) to side effects from medications or smoking.

Photo of Dr Eng Cern Gan

Answered By

Dr Eng Cern Gan

ENT Doctor

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