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Real Stories of Living with Chronic Cough

People impacted by chronic cough shed light on the condition

What is chronic cough?

For most people, coughing is a reflex your body uses to protect your airway when it’s irritated by excessive mucus and irritants, like dust or smoke. But for others, that reflex may trigger coughing more than usual, leading to a persistent (long-lasting) cough that may impact their health-related quality of life.

When this happens in adults, it may be a condition called chronic cough, which is defined as a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks.

People with the condition commonly cough in “bouts” they cannot control, and usually feel a strong urge to cough before a coughing bout starts.

Judy video

“For me, coughing can be an everyday thing, many times a day. And I’m constantly apologizing for something that I can’t control.”

Judy C.

Shares her chronic cough story

Who may be impacted by chronic cough?

nicholas video

“If somebody were to question the impact of chronic cough, I would suggest they spend some time in my shadow for a day, even half a day.”

Nicholas R.

Shares his chronic cough story
Both adult women and men can have chronic cough, though the condition is more likely to affect women. The typical person with chronic cough is a woman in her 50s.
Approximately
5%

of adults in the United States live with chronic cough.

Chronic cough is commonly associated with other health conditions, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Upper airway cough syndrome (UACS)
  • Non-asthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis (NAEB)

However, in some people with chronic cough, treatment of an underlying condition does not resolve the cough, or an underlying condition can’t be identified.

Chronic cough spotlight: Dotty's story

Dotty W., a trained jazz singer and music teacher, has been living with chronic cough for more than 35 years. “It was around the mid-1980s when I began to have consistent cough and started visiting doctor after doctor,” she recalls. “I learned I had to be my own advocate. I did a lot of research and investigating to learn about chronic cough and what I could do next.”

She acknowledges that her cough has at times limited her lifestyle, impacting where she can go. She has had to miss out on events like large gatherings that require her to raise her voice, which tend to trigger her coughing bouts. “I only attend performances if I can secure an aisle seat where I can quickly get up and leave if a coughing bout starts.”

Dotty’s friends have been patient and understanding with her chronic cough. “I give them a lot of credit because I think it would be annoying listening to someone who coughs all the time.” She feels lucky to have a few friends with chronic cough who understand what she is going through. “It’s been helpful to talk about our experiences with one another.”

Dotty playing piano

How might chronic cough affect a person’s daily life?

Chronic cough may impact a person’s physical, social and emotional well-being. People living with chronic cough may feel embarrassed or frustrated about their cough in social settings. Sometimes the cough may interfere with talking, daily activities, and social gatherings. It can also lead people to experience depressive feelings.

Those with chronic cough may also experience:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Stress urinary incontinence
  • Sleep disturbances

How is chronic cough diagnosed?

Kris video

“When I finally saw a doctor who told me I have chronic cough… I said to him, ‘You really listened to me.’”

Kris B.

Shares her chronic cough story

Evaluation of chronic cough can take time and people may see a healthcare provider many times. Typically, a person starts with a primary care provider, who will begin by taking a complete medical history and physical exam. If the provider is unable to determine the cause of the cough, they may refer the person to a specialist, such as a pulmonologist, an allergist, an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), or an esophagus/stomach specialist (gastroenterologist). These specialists may perform additional tests, such as chest x-rays, throat swabs, blood samples, and more if needed.

What resources are available?

Chronic cough may be challenging. If you have chronic cough:

The Cough Chronicles is an educational resource where people can learn more about chronic cough and hear from others with shared experiences. The Cough Chronicles is sponsored by Merck in collaboration with the American Lung Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and the Allergy and Asthma Network to support those living with chronic cough.

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US-OGM-00842 05/22