Living with Cough | American Lung Association

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Living with Cough

Coughing is very common. Most of us have and will have episodes of persistent cough through our lives. Although coughing is a normal body reflex when sporadic, experiencing persistent or chronic cough could be very disturbing during daily activities.

What to Expect

When a cough persists for long periods of time, it may have an impact on your quality of life. For example, it could:

  • Be exhausting and decrease your energy to face daily activities.
  • Be disruptive at night and cause sleeplessness to you or your significant other.
  • Cause headaches, nausea and even vomiting.
  • Cause chest wall and muscle ache.
  • Cause broken ribs, especially in older adults.
  • Cause or worsen urinary incontinency.
  • Cause sore throat and hoarse voice.
  • Interrupt normal eating and/or drinking.
  • Need physical isolation if it's due to a contagious disease.
  • Could have psychological effects by feeling embarrassed of one's persistent cough.
  • Could make patients feel restricted in social events.
  • Could cause frustration, anger, anxiety and depression.

Managing a Cough

The treatment of cough is not only tailored to the cause but to your lifestyle. It's important to work with your doctor. Here are a few tips that could help you manage your cough while your doctor is treating the cause:

  • If cough is due to a contagious disease, it is important to take action and avoid being contagious to others.
    • Avoid visiting public places.
    • Avoid shaking hands.
    • Wash your hand frequently with hot water and soap for 15 to 20 seconds. Alcohol-based rubs are a good alternative.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, throwing the tissue right away. If there is no tissue available, cough into your upper sleeve or elbow and not your hand.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
    • Clean and disinfect surfaces you touch at home or work when sick.
  • Quitting smoking is a great way to help control or even eliminate your cough. Stay away from people who smoke to avoid secondhand smoke.
  • If there is a specific irritant in the air causing you to cough in your house or workplace, try to eliminate or avoid it.
  • If your cough is caused by allergies, learn to identify and reduce your exposure to the allergens that bother you.
  • A vaporizer or a steamy shower can help decrease nasal congestion and soothe the throat and airway that are chronically irritated from persistent coughing.
  • The use of cough drops and hard candy increases saliva production and helps relieve dry cough and sore throat. However, never give them to children under the age of three because of the risk of choking.
  • Honey: It soothes an inflamed throat and may reduce the cough frequency. It should not be given to children under the age of 1 due to high risk of botulism, a serious infection.

Finding Support

You don't need to deal with a persistent cough by yourself. Your healthcare professional and the medical staff are a great support system available to you. They will provide you with the information you need. Many times a multidisciplinary team of healthcare providers will be needed to help you deal with your persistent cough.

Once the reason for your cough has been identified, learn more about the specific disease that is causing you to cough.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor »

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.


    Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed July 13, 2016.

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