Understanding Chronic Cough

Coughing is normally a reflex the body uses to protect the airway when it’s irritated from things like excessive mucus, harmful irritants or other substances we can breathe in.

For some people, the coughing reflex may become disordered, leading to a persistent cough that may impact health-related quality of life.

When a cough lasts longer than eight weeks in adults, it is considered chronic cough. People with the condition commonly cough in “bouts” they cannot control, and usually feel a strong urge to cough or a “tickle” in the throat before a coughing bout starts.

In the United States, approximately 5% of adults live with chronic cough.

Both adult women and men can have chronic cough, but the typical person with the condition is a woman in her 50s.

Chronic cough may impact people in different ways:

Social/Emotional Impact:

  • Interference with daily activities
  • Embarrassment
  • Speech interference

Physical Impact:

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

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


Gastroesophageal reflux disease


Non-asthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis


Upper airway cough syndrome


In some patients, chronic cough may be characterized as

refractory chronic cough (RCC), a cough that may be related to other health conditions that doesn’t go away after appropriate treatment, or unexplained chronic cough (UCC), a cough that persists when another health condition associated with cough cannot be found, despite thorough investigation.

Investigation of chronic cough

can take time as health care professionals must determine whether a patient’s cough is caused by other health conditions, and if one is identified, to properly treat the condition.

A doctor’s perspective on chronic cough

“It’s important that there’s increased awareness around chronic cough so people understand it’s a real medical condition and those with chronic cough can’t control their coughing.”

Dr. Warner Carr, FAAAAI, FACAAI

Specialist in allergy and immunology


Frequently Asked Questions

How do health care providers investigate chronic cough?

Your health care provider may refer you to be evaluated by specialists. These could include a pulmonologist, an allergist, an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), or an esophagus/stomach specialist (gastroenterologist).

How may a health care provider determine if I have chronic cough?

Your health care provider may ask you questions about your medical history, perform a physical exam and complete tests.

What types of tests may a health care provider perform?

A health care provider may perform tests, which include a chest X-ray, CT scan or breathing test.

US-OGM-01117 08/23