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Common Causes of a Chronic Cough

Updated on January 8, 2018
tamarawilhite profile image

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, an industrial engineer, a mother of two, and a published sci-fi and horror author.


A chronic nagging cough, whether a low occasional cough or periodic deep cough, can be a sign of a serious respiratory or health condition. What are the most common causes of a chronic cough?

Asthma Treatment via Nebulizer

Nebulizers are one method of delivering medication used to treat chronic coughs.
Nebulizers are one method of delivering medication used to treat chronic coughs. | Source

Walking Pneumonia

When a cold goes into bronchitis, one can suffer fevers, chills and severe weakness. When pneumonia forms, the individual is winded, with a chronic cough, but does not always have a fever. If you develop a chronic cough after the runny nose or fever has gone away, see a doctor for a pneumonia test. Chest X-rays may be necessary for a proper diagnosis.

If you have pneumonia, do not wait for it to go away. It can be fatal, particularly in the elderly.


Emphysema is caused by particles left behind by cigarette smoke in the lungs. The particles fill the lungs, similar to the effect of cholesterol lining the arteries. As air sacks begin to become coated with the particles or lose their ability to clear mucus, the body compensates by increased coughing.

While emphysema is primarily a disease among smokers, non-smoking spouses of heavy smokers also develop the disease. In areas where cooking fires and fireplaces are common, the soot can coat the lungs and cause emphysema.

Adult Onset Asthma

Asthma has been rising not only among children but among adults as well. A chronic cough that fluctuates with the seasons can be attributed to seasonal allergies and diagnosed via allergy testing.

However, if the coughing continues periodically when there are no allergens present, the problem could be adult onset asthma. Asthma is worsened when allergens are present, but it will continue throughout the year.

Exposure to allergens like pet hair causes chronic coughs, especially if you don't know that you are allergic to it.
Exposure to allergens like pet hair causes chronic coughs, especially if you don't know that you are allergic to it. | Source


Tuberculosis or TB is carried without symptoms in about 10% of the world population. When it manifests, it results in a chronic cough though often few other immediate symptoms. The cough worsens as the lungs deteriorate. The chronic cough is only a symptom of the body trying to breathe against mucus build up and damage to the air sacks.

TB can be diagnosed by a skin test. Tuberculosis is confirmed to be the cause of a chronic cough via chest X-rays. While there is a vaccine against tuberculosis, it is rarely given in developed countries because it interferes with the diagnostic skin test for TB. The incidence of tuberculosis has been rising due to immigration without disease screening, air travel where people cannot help but inhale the exhalations of others and a large, immune-compromised population made up of HIV carriers and those receiving cancer treatment.

Lung Cancer

In rare cases, a chronic cough can be a symptom of lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases for smokers and spouses of smokers. The risk is also great for those who worked with asbestos. However, lung cancer can strike anyone. Up to a fifth of cases are in non-smokers.

One sign that the chronic cough is linked to lung cancer is that the cough worsens with time, while another is contracting more frequent and increasingly severe respiratory infections in addition to the cough.


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