Cannot Stop Coughing? 8 Causes of Chronic Cough

2. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
One condition that can cause a nagging cough is COPD, a lung condition that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

COPD occurs when the airways and air sacs in the lungs become inflamed or damaged, most often due to smoking, and is more common after age 45. In COPD, the lungs produce excess mucus, which the body reflexively tries to clear by coughing. COPD-related tissue damage can also make it particularly difficult to expel air from the lungs, which can make you feel short of breath.

Your doctor may check you for COPD (particularly if you have risk factors, such as smoking), after ruling out other common causes of cough. To determine if you have COPD, your doctor is likely to conduct some tests, including spirometry, which involves inhaling as deeply as you can and then exhaling into a tube.

3. Gastroesophageal reflux disease
GERD is an ailment of the stomach and esophagus that occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus due to a weak valve. The main symptoms? Killer heartburn. But coughing is another common symptom of GERD, along with chest pain and wheezing. In fact, GERD is a fairly common, and unrecognized, cause of a chronic cough.

4. Respiratory tract infection
Coughing is one of the most common symptoms of colds and flu and other respiratory tract infections. The other symptoms that accompany colds and flu, such as stuffy nose and a fever, are telltale signs that a viral infection is causing your cough.

However, a cough can outlast all those other symptoms, perhaps because the air passages in your lungs remain sensitive and inflamed.When this occurs, it's called chronic upper airway cough syndrome (or postnasal drip).

A more serious respiratory tract infection is pneumonia, which can be caused by bacteria or viruses. A cough, often producing a greenish or rust-colored mucus, is one of the characteristic symptoms of the illness, along with fever, chills, chest pain, weakness, fatigue, and nausea. These symptoms may present differently depending on your age; older adults may not experience a fever, for instance, or they may have a cough but no mucus.

Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics and generally clears up within two or three weeks. As with the cold and flu, however, the cough can linger for much longer.

A form of pneumonia known as mycoplasma, or walking pneumonia, shares the symptoms of pneumonia (including cough) and is more common in people under the age of 40.

People who have COPD can be more susceptible to such respiratory tract infections, and may experience exacerbations—episodes of potentially life-threatening shortness of breath—when they catch a cold or breath in air pollution or other irritants.

Prev 123 Next
Last Updated: April 01, 2009

Get the latest health, fitness, anti-aging, and nutrition news, plus special offers, insights and updates from!

More Ways to Connect with Health