Here's what may be causing your chronic cough

A cough is a natural mechanism that protects the airway from allergens, infectious pathogens, and foreign objects. While coughing in response to these causes is normal and often short-lived, some patients experience a cough that becomes a chronic condition. 

A chronic cough is defined as a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks in an adult or four weeks in a child. Here are common conditions that can cause a persistent cough.

1) Postnasal drip

Postnasal drip (PND) happens when excess mucus from the nose drips down the back of the throat. PND can cause a sore throat, persistent throat clearing, a raspy voice, and a chronic cough, as well as feeling a lump in the throat when swallowing.

PND can be caused by allergies, upper respiratory infections, acid reflux, and cold, dry air. In addition to treating the underlying condition, PND often improves with decongestants, nasal steroid sprays, and sleeping with the head of the bed elevated.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is another condition that can cause a chronic cough. GERD causes acid to backflow from the stomach up into the esophagus and, in some cases, to the back of the throat. This acid causes inflammation in the upper airway, which can trigger the cough reflex and cause a persistent cough.

GERD often improves with acid-reducing medications, avoiding foods that exacerbate GERD, not eating near bedtime, and maintaining a healthy weight.

3) Asthma

Asthma is a condition in which there is excess mucus production within the airways, as well as spasms of the muscles that control the diameter of the airways.

Asthma can cause a nagging cough. In addition to an ongoing cough, patients with untreated or poorly controlled asthma can also experience wheezing and shortness of breath.

4) Atypical pneumonia

Atypical pneumonia is caused by pathogens that don’t have a cellular wall, so they cause symptoms that are more like viruses than bacteria. These pathogens cause a milder form of pneumonia than typical pneumonia-causing pathogens, making the symptoms less severe. Because of this, atypical pneumonia is often called “walking pneumonia” because most patients are still able to keep up with their usual activities.

Atypical pneumonia symptoms include fatigue, sore throat, headache, low-grade fever, and a persistent cough. Antibiotics are the most common treatment for this infection.

5) ACE inhibitors

Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) are a class of medication most used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. Up to 10% of patients who take this class of medication will develop a chronic cough that does not resolve until the patient is switched to a different class of medication.

It’s not clear yet why ACE inhibitors cause a chronic cough. Research is ongoing to see if there’s a genetic component or if the medication causes structural changes in the airway.

6) Lung disease

Lung disease can also cause a chronic cough. For this reason, imaging is often indicated for patients with a cough lasting more than a few weeks. The most common imaging is a chest X-ray. In addition to detecting infections, lung imaging can detect conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), fibrosis, scarring, and lung cancer.

7) Environmental factors

The quality of the air you breathe, particularly indoors, can cause a persistent, nagging cough. Environmental factors that can be the cause of a chronic cough include: 

  • Chemicals in household products
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Pet dander and fur
  • Pollen
  • Smoke from fireplaces
  • Tobacco smoke

Other symptoms associated with chronic cough

Chronic cough may not be the only symptom you are experiencing. Other symptoms and conditions associated with a nagging cough may include:

  • Allergies
  • Diagnosis of bronchitis or asthma
  • Feeling liquid run down the throat
  • Heartburn
  • Hoarseness or losing your voice
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Wheezing

If you are struggling with a nagging cough, you should see a healthcare provider to help evaluate your symptoms and determine the best course of action. 

Chronic cough in children

If your child has a lingering cough after a cold or the flu that lasts more than two weeks, it is best to see a provider who can help identify the underlying cause and prescribe antibiotics if needed.

Chronic Cough FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions about persistent coughs:

How do I get rid of a chronic cough?

Getting rid of a chronic cough requires identifying the underlying cause and addressing any medical condition that might be causing it. The American Lung Association also recommends avoiding irritants (such as smoke), drinking plenty of fluids, and using a humidifier. 

Can allergies cause a chronic cough?

Yes, allergies can cause a chronic, dry cough. Allergy testing and a treatment plan can help manage symptoms. 

What is dry coughing?

A dry cough is a cough with no phlegm or mucus production that might be caused by a tickling sensation in the throat. This type of cough is commonly associated with asthma, allergies, or an infection. 

Visit an urgent care for chronic cough symptoms

If you have a cough that just won’t go away, visit one of our urgent care centers. We are here to help. We can evaluate your cough to determine the underlying cause and provide an effective treatment plan. 

Our centers offer on-site lab tests, X-rays, and treatment for allergies and asthma. Visit our services page for more details on the services we offer. 

To get started with getting rid of that persistent cough, find the center nearest you, then walk in or save your spot online. Our caring providers want to help you feel better soon. 



Medically reviewed by J.D Zipkin, MD, MA, FAAP — By Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant on December 14th, 2023