A cough is a reflexive response to an irritant. A persistent cough is not a disease, but may be a symptom of another condition. Chronic cough can indicate an irritated airway, lingering infection, dehydration, overuse of over-the-counter decongestant pills or nasal sprays, acid reflux, exposure to pollutants, or stress. Some people who take ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure experience a dry cough as a side effect of their medication. A chronic cough may also be caused by allergies, asthma, smoking, obstructive sleep apnea, lung illness or injury, or heart failure.
Uncontrolled, violent coughing may be a sign of pertussis, or whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory disease that most commonly affects young children. Whooping cough has increased dramatically since the 1980s, and studies are underway to improve strategies to reduce the rates of infection. Vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent whooping cough.
No lingering cough should be ignored; a pulmonologist can help get to the bottom of what’s causing that irritating, involuntary reflex.
The Harvard Health Publication That Nagging Cough explains how a cough begins, what might be causing it, and why certain over-the-counter medications might be ineffective.