Having a cough is one of the most common reasons for seeing your doctor. Coughing is important to keep your throat and airways clear by getting rid of mucus or other irritating particles. However, a long-lasting (chronic) or severe cough may mean you have an underlying disease or disorder.
Coughs can be dry or "productive," which means that you are bringing up sputum or phlegm when you cough. An acute cough typically lasts no longer than 2 to 3 weeks. A chronic cough lasts longer than 4 weeks.
Many illnesses can cause cough. Acute coughs usually begin suddenly and are often due to a cold, flu, or sinus infection. Coughs from a lung infection, such as bronchitis can start out suddenly and then linger. Other common causes of chronic. or ongoing coughs, include asthma, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from emphysema or chronic bronchitis, sinusitis with drainage into the throat, smoking cigarettes or exposure to secondhand smoke, pollutants, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Some medications, such as ACE inhibitors taken to lower blood pressure, can cause chronic coughs in some people.
If your cough lasts more than 2 weeks, see your doctor to determine the cause.
The symptoms that accompany your cough depend on what is causing it, and may include:
Respiratory tract infection:
Postnasal drip (from allergies or a cold)
Medications called ACE inhibitors that are used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, including:
Your doctor will take a detailed medical history, gathering information about the quality of the cough, how long you have had it, symptoms associated with the cough, etc. Your doctor will also do a thorough physical examination, paying particular attention to your nasal passages, throat, lungs, heart, and legs. Your doctor may order tests, such as:
The goal of treatment is to not only soothe your cough but also treat the underlying cause.
If your doctor suspects a certain illness, your doctor may suggest you try certain medications that can help pinpoint the cause. For example, if your doctor thinks your cough is due to GERD, you may be prescribed medications to reduce your stomach acid. If your cough gets better, then the diagnosis will be correct.
Doctors may prescribe other medications to either relieve your cough or treat the underlying problem, including cough suppressants, inhalers, antibiotics, antihistamines, or expectorants. Certain herbs and supplements may also help in relieving your cough.
Doctors may prescribe different drugs to either relieve your cough or treat the underlying condition, including:
Nasal corticosteroids. These prescription sprays reduce inflammation of the nose and help relieve sneezing, itching, and runny nose:
Because supplements may have side effects or interact with medications, you should take them only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
For cough from respiratory infections, sinusitis, or allergies:
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care practitioner.
Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following remedies for the treatment of coughs based on their knowledge and experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. A constitutional type is defined as a person's physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual.
To successfully treat your cough, it is important to determine the underlying condition that is causing it.
Call your doctor right away if any of the following symptoms accompany your cough:
Most causes of cough are very treatable. The prognosis depends on what is causing your cough.
Belongia EA, Berg R, Liu K. A randomized trial of zinc nasal spray for the treatment of upper respiratory illness in adults. Am J Med. 2001;111(2):103-8.
Ben-Arye E, Dudai N, Eini A, Torem M, Schiff E, Rakover Y. Treatment of upper respiratory tract infections in primary care: a randomized study using aromatic herbs. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:690346.
Benich J, Carek P. Evaluation of the Patient with Chronic Cough. American Family Physician. 2012;84(8).
Broaddus, VC., Mason, RJ., Ernst, JD., King, TE., et al. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016(1):497-514.
Chang AB, Glomb WB. Guidelines for evaluating chronic cough in pediatrics: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2006;260S-83S.
Chihara S. Bope & Kellerman: Conn's Current Therapy 2013. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012.
Cohen HA, Rozen J, Kristal H, et al. Effect of honey on nocturnal cough and sleep quality: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Pediatrics. 2012;130(3):465-71.
Cornere MM. Chronic cough: a respiratory viewpoint. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;21(6):530-4.
Dalal B, Geraci S. Office Management of the Patient with Chronic Cough. The American Journal of Medicine. 2011;124(3).
de Vrese M, Winkler P, Rautenberg P, Harder T, Noah C, Laue C, et al. Probiotic bacteria reduced duration and severity but not the incidence of common cold episodes in a double blind, randomized, controlled trial. Vaccine. 2006 Nov 10;24(44-46):6670-4.
Dudha M, Lehrman SG, Aronow WS, Butt A. Evaluation and management of cough. Compr Ther. 2009;35(1):9-17.
Eccles R. Menthol: effects on nasal sensation of airflow and the drive to breathe. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2003;3(3):210-4.
Frank LG. The efficacy of Echinacea compound herbal tea preparation on the severity and duration of upper respiratory and flu symptoms: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. J Comp Alt Med. 2000;6(4):327-34.
Guo R, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Complementary medicine for treating or preventing influenza or influenza-like illness. Am J Med. 2007 Nov;120(11):923-9.e3. Review.
Hirt M, Nobel Sion, Barron E. Zinc nasal gel for the treatment of common cold symptoms: A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. ENT J. 2000;79(10):778-80, 782.
Josling P. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double blind, placebo-controlled survey. Adv Ther. 2001;18(4):189-93.
Kantar A, Bernardini R, Paravati F, Minasi D, Sacco O. Chronic cough in preschool children. Early Hum Dev. 2013;89 Suppl 3:S19-24.
Lindenmuth GF, Lindenmuth EB. The efficacy of echinacea compound herbal tea preparation on the severity and duration of upper respiratory and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. J Altern Complement Med. 2000;6(4):327-34.
Mahady GB. Echinacea: recommendations for its use in prophylaxis and treatment of upper respiratory tract infections. Nutr Clin Care. 2001;4(4):199-208.
Maurer HR. Bromelain: biochemistry, pharmacology and medical use. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2001;58(9):1234-45.
Melchart D, Linde K, Fischer P, Kaesmayr J. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. [Review]. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD000530.
Mullholland S, Chang AB. Honey and lozenges for children with non-specific cough. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(2):CD007523.
Natt RS, Earis JE, Swift AC. Chronic cough: a multidisciplinary approach. J Laryngol Otol. 2012;136(5):441-4.
Oduwole O, Meremikwu MM, Oyo-Ita A, Udoh EE. Honey for acute cough in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014; 12:CD007094.
Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CM. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(12):1140-6.
Prasad AS, Fitzgerald JT, Bao B, Beck FW, Chandrasekar PH. Duration of symptoms and plasma cytokine levels in patients with the common cold treated with zinc acetate. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2000;133(4):245-52.
Raeessi MA, Aslani J, Raessi N, et al. Honey plus coffee versus systemic steroid in the treatment of persistent post-infectious cough: a randomised controlled trial. Prim Care Respir J. 2013;22(3):325-30.
Roxas M, Jurenka J. Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):25-48. Review.
Shadkam MN, Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Mozayan MR. A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Jul;16(7):787-93.
Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in community settings. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;11:CD001831.
Zanasi A, Mazzolini M, Tursi F, Morselli-Labate AM, Paccapelo A, Lecchi M. Homeopathic medicine for acute cough in upper respiratory tract infections and acute bronchitis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Feb;27(1):102-8.
Ziment I. Herbal antitussives. Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2002;15(3):327-33.
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2019 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.