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Chronic Cough

What is chronic cough?

Coughing has a purpose. It’s an important way to keep your throat and airway clear of material that should not be there. Your vocal cords come together with force when you cough to propel foreign bodies or irritants away from the lungs. Sometimes a cough can become a chronic condition. Constant irritation and trauma to the voice box can cause a pattern of overreaction of the vocal folds with more easily triggered cough response and the chronic feeling of needing to cough when there isn’t actually anything to cough out.

Chronic cough is usually defined as a cough that lasts for eight weeks or longer. When this occurs, it’s important to evaluate and manage all the possible causes.

Chronic cough may be caused by any of the following:

Chronic Cough Diagnosis

Evaluation of chronic cough is a multidisciplinary task. As part of your evaluation for chronic cough, you may be asked to undergo evaluation by your primary care physician, a pulmonologist, an allergist or a gastroenterologist to rule out cough related to the lungs, sinus or allergy issues or reflux.

Chronic Cough Treatment

Treatment for chronic cough involves identifying the contributing factors and managing them with medication, lifestyle and behavioral changes. Your treatment team will discuss different treatments with you, including medicines that may suppress the trigger to cough. In addition, a speech language pathologist who has experience treating chronic cough will help you:

  • Identify and eliminate sources of chronic vocal cord irritation through improved vocal hygiene

  • Identify and control triggers for cough

  • Begin an exercise program to give you better control over breathing, voice and coughing episodes

Reviewed by Clint Allen, M.D., from the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

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