Getting rid of a stubborn cough may require cough suppressants, steam inhalation, saline gargles and/or anti-inflammatory medications. Dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant (antitussive), is usually considered the first-line cough treatment. It may be given in combination with a mucolytic or expectorant (medications that loosen mucus in airways to be coughed out), such as guaifenesin.
A stubborn or chronic cough may require a doctor’s attention; however, people may try the following recommendations beforehand:
- Half a teaspoon of honey before sleep has been shown to soothe coughs related to upper airway infection.
- Sucking lozenges or sipping water may temporarily suppress a cough and relieve the sensations of throat irritation.
- For productive (wet) cough, mucolytic medications, such as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), are important and designed specifically to break down the mucus, which is causing the irritation. Mucolytics have been shown to help reduce coughing in adults and children.
- In some cases, taking antitussives may help if antihistamines and expectorants are not helpful.
- Patients with recurrent episodes may need antibiotics, especially if a bacterial infection is diagnosed.
- It is important to treat the underlying cause; however, most coughs are self-limiting where only supportive therapies, such as steam inhalation, saltwater gargles, antipyretics (acetaminophen) and cough suppressants are needed.
Although a quick fix might be tempting, simply slowing down could be helpful, which means, sometimes, taking a day off to get some rest. People should also drink enough water to stay hydrated since that can help break up any thick mucus that is causing the cough.
What are the causes of a stubborn cough?
A cough accompanying a cold or the flu is normal. It helps clear the airways of anything impeding normal breathing. However, chronic or severe coughing may be a sign of an underlying health condition, which may include:
- An infection
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- A condition in which your airways become narrow and swollen and mucus production is increased.
- Postnasal drip
- Your cough reflex exists to clear your airways of any obstructions.
- Postnasal drip, also called upper airway cough syndrome, is marked by an overproduction of mucus that often drips down the back of your throat, which (constantly) triggers the cough reflex.
- Cystic fibrosis (CF)
- A serious, inherited disease that thickens the mucus, causing it to become sticky and plug up your airways, resulting in a chronic cough.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- If your chronic cough is accompanied by heartburn or a sour taste in your mouth, it could be a symptom of acid reflux disease, GERD.
- GERD is marked by stomach acid flowing up from your stomach to the throat via the esophagus, irritating the esophagus and causing a chronic cough.
- The cough can worsen GERD, which in turn worsens the cough until you seek medical treatment.
- An allergy-related cough results from your body’s response to an allergen, an otherwise harmless substance (in most cases) that triggers your immune system.
- Seasonal allergies are extremely common, triggered by things such as dust and pet dander.
- Coughs from allergies tend to be dry and persistent, or they may worsen during certain seasons or in different environments.
When should I see a doctor?
While most coughs can take three weeks or less to settle down, some stubborn coughs may be a sign of a more serious issue. In those cases, visit your doctor if:
- You feel more unwell than you would expect.
- The cough started after you have choked on something.
- You are coughing up blood.
- Your cough is not getting better within three days.
- You have chest or shoulder pain in addition to your cough.
- You are finding it difficult to breathe.
- You are losing weight for no apparent reason.
- Your voice becomes hoarse and stays that way even after the cough has settled.
- You notice new neck lumps or swellings above your collarbones.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Michigan Medicine. Relieving a Cough. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/ug1887
Carrasco A. What Does a Persistent Cough Mean? Valleywise Health. https://blog.valleywisehealth.org/what-a-persistent-cough-means/
Top How Do You Get Rid of a Stubborn Cough? Related Articles
Children's Cough Causes and TreatmentsChildren's cough causes include infection, acid reflux, asthma, allergies or sinus infection, whooping cough, and exposure to irritants. Treatment for a child's cough include cough medicine for children over the age of four.
Chronic CoughChronic cough is a cough that does not go away and is generally a symptom of another disorder such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, sinus infection, cigarette smoking, GERD, postnasal drip, bronchitis, pneumonia, medications, and less frequently tumors or other lung disease.
Chronic cough treatment is based on the cause, but may be soothed natural and home remedies.
Cold and Cough Medicine for Infants and Children
The safety of giving infants and children over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicine is important for caregivers to understand. While there is no "gold standard" recommendation for giving infants and children OTC cold and cough medicine for fever, aches, cough, and runny nose, a few standards have been recommended.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that OTC cold and cough medicine only be used in children age four years and older.
The American College of Chest Physicians recommend that these medicines only be used in children age 15 years and older.
The FDA recommends that OTC cold and cough medicine be used in children 2 years of age and older.
However, there is agreement in regard to which OTC medications should not be used in children under the age of four (or the age of two, depending upon which guidelines are used), and they are 1) certain antihistamines like brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine maleate, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl); 2) cough expectorants (guaifenesin); 3) cough suppressants (dextromethorphan, DM); and 4) decongestants (pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine).
Aspirin should never be given to infants, children, and adolescents due to the possibility of a rare, but often severe and even fatal illness called Reye's syndrome.
FDA. "Most Young Children with a Cough or Cold Don't Need Medicines." July 18, 2017.
FDA. "Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids." Updated: Nov 04, 2016.
Cough Remedies and CausesRemedies for coughing to relieve symptoms, thin mucus, and clear phlegm include cough syrup and honey in hot water. Use suppressants to treat a dry cough. See a doctor when home remedies are not enough. Bronchitis or another condition may be to blame.
How Can I Stop My Child From Coughing?Treatment for cough is not recommended unless the cough interferes with the child’s sleep or activity or is accompanied by a fever. Different age groups of children require different therapies to stop them from coughing. Some good home remedies to treat cough in children include honey, warm milk, hydration, steam inhalation, resting, saline nose drops and other strategies.
How Serious Is Whooping Cough in Adults?What is whooping cough (pertussis) and how serious is it for adults? Learn causes, symptoms and treatments.
Cough: 19 Tips on How to Stop a CoughCoughing is a reflex that helps a person clear their airways of irritants. There are many causes of an excessive or severe cough including irritants like cigarette and secondhand smoke, pollution, air fresheners, medications like beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, the common cold, GERD, lung cancer, and heart disease.Natural and home remedies to help cure and soothe a cough include stay hydrated, gargle saltwater, use cough drops or lozenges, use herbs and supplements like ginger, mint, licorice, and slippery elm, and don't smoke. Over-the-counter products (OTC)to cure and soothe a cough include cough suppressants and expectorants, and anti-reflux drugs. Prescription drugs that help cure a cough include narcotic medications, antibiotics, inhaled steroids, and anti-reflux drugs like proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, for example, omeprazole (Prilosec), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and pantoprazole (Protonix).
Is a Cough Contagious?There are many types of coughs: for example, dry cough, wet cough, a barking cough, whooping cough, stress induced cough, acute cough, and chronic cough. Cough is a symptom of an underlying condition or disease. Treatment of cough as a symptom is generally with OTC lozenges and liquids. The cause of the cough will be necessary to treat.
Whooping Cough (Pertussis)Whooping cough (pertussis) is highly contagious respiratory infection that is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. There are an estimated 300,000 plus deaths annually from whooping cough (pertussis). Whooping cough commonly affects infants and young children but can be prevented with immunization with the vaccine. First stage whooping cough symptoms are a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever, a mild cough with the cough gradually becoming more severe. After one to two weeks, the second stage of whooping cough begins.
What Can I Take for a Cough While Pregnant?Seasonal flu, colds, and allergies are common ailments affecting most people all round the year. You must always be cautious of any medication that you take. This is especially true in pregnancy and during breastfeeding, given the effects these drugs may have on the unborn or breastfed child.
Why Am I Coughing Up Bloody Mucus?Coughing up blood or hemoptysis refers to the spitting of blood or blood-stained mucus from the throat and lungs (the respiratory tract). Coughed up blood often looks bubbly and is mixed with mucus. It may be red or rust-colored in appearance. It is often small in amounts, unlike vomiting blood where a large amount of blood is expelled or vomited from the mouth.