Chronic Persistent Cough in Adults

Authored by Dr Mary Harding, 11 May 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Prof Cathy Jackson, 11 May 2017

A cough is termed "chronic", which means persisting, if it has hung around for more than eight weeks. A shorter-term cough, lasting up to three weeks, is called "acute", and if it is somewhere in the middle, it's called "subacute". Infections (such as the common cold or a chest infection) are the most common reason for acute coughs, but these usually settle within about three weeks.

If you have had a cough which is not settling after three weeks then always see your doctor. Particularly see your doctor if you have a cough along with:

  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Sweats.

This will depend on the cause. Smoking irritates the airways and is one of the biggest causes of cough. If it isn't causing the cough, it certainly won't be helping it. So if you smoke, please consider quitting.

Other than that, the treatment will be specific to the cause. For example, inhalers may be prescribed for asthma, antacid medicines may be prescribed for reflux, nasal sprays may be prescribed for catarrh coming from the nose.

Further reading and references

  • Cough; NICE CKS, June 2015 (UK access only)

  • Barraclough K; Chronic cough in adults. BMJ. 2009 Apr 24338:b1218. doi: 10.1136/bmj.b1218.

  • Johnstone KJ, Chang AB, Fong KM, et al; Inhaled corticosteroids for subacute and chronic cough in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Mar 28(3):CD009305. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009305.pub2.

  • Gibson PG, Vertigan AE; Management of chronic refractory cough. BMJ. 2015 Dec 14351:h5590. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h5590.

  • Faruqi S, Murdoch RD, Allum F, et al; On the definition of chronic cough and current treatment pathways: an international qualitative study. Cough. 2014 May 2910:5. doi: 10.1186/1745-9974-10-5. eCollection 2014.

I have phlegm being produced, especially at night, I feel my chest being tight.And phlegm reaching my throat. Its hard to sleep initially due to this problem.

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