What your persistent cough actually means

Asian woman is sick and coughing badly

A persistent cough can be a frustrating and disruptive symptom that can last for weeks or even months. It can affect people of all ages and can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions. In this article, we will explore what a persistent cough means, its common causes, and the symptoms associated with it. By understanding more about persistent cough, you can take steps to manage your symptoms and improve your overall health.

What is persistent coughing?

A persistent cough is a nagging and persistent cough that lasts for more than three weeks, which can be both frustrating and disruptive to your daily life. It can be caused by a range of conditions, from minor to serious, and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. The causes of a persistent cough can vary widely and can be a symptom of an underlying condition that requires medical attention.

Common causes of persistent coughing

There are many different causes of persistent coughing, and the specific cause can vary from person to person. Some common causes of persistent coughing include:

  • Respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Allergies
  • Sinus infections
  • Smoking
  • Lung cancer and other types of cancer

However, we will only examine the most prevalent causes of persistent coughing, which are allergies, sinus infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


Allergies are a common cause of persistent coughing because they cause inflammation in the airways, leading to a cough. When a person with allergies comes into contact with an allergen, such as pollen or pet dander, their immune system overreacts and releases histamine. These chemicals cause the airways to swell and produce extra mucus, leading to symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) can also cause a persistent cough by triggering post-nasal drip, which can make you cough to clear mucus from your throat.

Sinus infection

When the sinuses become inflamed, a condition known as sinus infection (sinusitis) develops. Postnasal drip is the medical term for the accumulation of mucus at the back of the throat that often accompanies colds and chronic sinus infections. However, postnasal drip is a contributing factor in more than merely coughing. It's also possible to experience nausea, poor breath, a sore throat, or hoarseness as a result of this. When mucus or other substances drain down the back of the throat, it is common for an individual to experience irritation and a tickling sensation in the throat. This can lead to a cough, as the body attempts to clear the throat and airways.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and it is characterized by difficulty breathing. COPD can cause persistent coughing as a symptom because it leads to the narrowing of the airways, making it harder to clear mucus. When someone has COPD, persistent coughing is often accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing. This persistent coughing can be caused by an underlying inflammation in the airways that is not well controlled, or by an exacerbation, which is a worsening of COPD symptoms. Persistent coughing can occur as a result of an accumulation of mucus in the airways, which may lead to infections and inflammation. Smoking is the main risk factor for COPD, however, exposure to other lung irritants such as pollution and chemical fumes can also contribute to the development of COPD.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, and it can cause a variety of symptoms, including persistent coughing. Dry coughing and hoarseness are both symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). According to the National Institute of Health, GERD can also aggravate asthma, resulting in symptoms like wheezing. The cough is dry and spasmodic and it’s also chronic. It can sometimes be misdiagnosed as an allergy or postnasal drip-related cough. It's important to note that not all persistent coughing is caused by GERD, and other underlying conditions such as asthma, allergies, lung infections, and COPD should be ruled out. A persistent cough can also be caused by a combination of conditions, such as asthma and GERD.

In conclusion, persistent coughing can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions, including allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and GERD. Each of these conditions can lead to inflammation and narrowing of the airways, making it difficult to clear mucus and other substances from the lungs.

While the specific cause of a persistent cough can vary from person to person, it is important to see a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. By beginning to understand more about what your persistent cough means and the possible underlying causes, you can take steps to manage your symptoms and improve your overall health and well-being.

Healthful is a digital media publisher and does not offer professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always consult your doctor when it comes to your personal health or before you start any treatment.
Want to Stay Updated?
Get updated on the newest stories on health by subscribing.