Chronic Persistent Cough in Adults - Treatment

How will my cough be treated?

This will entirely depend on the cause. It is important to try to work this out first, in order to get you on the right treatment. For example, if it turns out to be an infection, such as TB, you would be put on a special antibiotic regime. If it turns out to be asthma or COPD, you will be given inhalers, and these adjusted until the cough improves. If you have reflux, you might be given anti-reflux medicines such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or ranitidine. If you have congestion in your nose, you may be given a steroid nasal spray. Or you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for further examination of the inside of your nose and sinuses. If you are on a medicine which has caused the cough, this can be stopped.

If you smoke, you will be advised strongly to stop smoking.

What will the treatment be if no cause is found?

This is more difficult but there are a number of options which may be tried. These include:

  • Soothing preparations. These don't cure the cough but may help to soothe it a little. Examples include simple linctus and cough sweets available from pharmacies.
  • Cough suppressing treatments. There are no magical treatments for suppressing cough but there are some which might be helpful, such as pholcodine or codeine.
  • Medicines which may make it easier to cough up the phlegm. These medicines are called mucolytics. These are only useful in people who have coughs which are not dry.
  • Steroid inhalers. These are usually used for people with asthma or COPD, but sometimes help reduce inflammation in the airways and improve a cough. They often help if your airways have persisting irritation after an infection which has settled.
  • Medicines which work to make the nerves less sensitive. These include amitriptyline, gabapentin and pregabalin.
  • Speech therapy.

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  • Cough; NICE CKS, June 2015 (UK access only)
  • Barraclough K; Chronic cough in adults. BMJ. 2009 Apr 24 338: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 14 351: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 29 10:5. doi: 10.1186/1745-9974-10-5. eCollection 2014.
Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Prof Cathy Jackson
Document ID:
29396 (v1)
Last Checked:
11 May 2017
Next Review:
25 June 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.