Persistent Cough in Adults
Welcome to our Decision Health Guide on Persistent Cough. This guide is designed for people who have been coughing for at least 3 weeks.
Anyone with a persistent cough should be evaluated by a health care provider.
This guide will provide you with the likely possibilities for your persistent cough. You can use this guide either before or after you have been evaluated by a health care professional.
Most people are not concerned about a cough when it first begins, since it is so common to have a cough from a cold or viral bronchitis. At the start of your cough, you may also have had a dripping or congested nose, sore throat, fever, muscle aches, nausea, ear pain, or pink eye. Sometimes bronchitis or other upper respiratory infections result in a long-lasting cough.
When your cough began, did you have any other symptoms that suggest that you had a cold, bronchitis or a viral illness?
The fact that your cough began along with other symptoms of a cold, bronchitis or other upper respiratory infection makes it likely that you have developed ticklish and hyper-reactive airways in your lungs. You may also notice wheezing. Doctors often refer to this persistent cough (with or without wheezing) as "temporary asthma" or "asthmatic bronchitis."
Usually a cough that persists following an upper respiratory illness starts as a viral infection. The long-lasting cough does not mean your infection is still active. After the infection has cleared, your airways can remain irritated during the healing process. The cough (and wheeze) should resolve within a couple months. Sometimes it will last even longer.
Less often, the initial problem was a bacterial infection, such as pertussis (whooping cough) or mycoplasma. In the later stages of one of these bacterial infections, antibiotics are not usually very helpful.
If your cough has already lasted 3 weeks or more, contact your doctor.
If your cough is a lingering symptom from an upper respiratory infection, your doctor may suggest trying an inhaler. Most often doctors prescribe an albuterol inhaler as a short-term treatment to relax your airways and reduce the cough.
Although this is a likely explanation for your cough, let's explore some other possibilities.