Course and prognosis of chronic cough

Coughing child – iStock
Coughing child – iStock

The majority of coughs will resolve on their own over time. A post-viral cough, for example, can linger for several weeks to months, and so time is needed for it to resolve. 

If there’s a defined and obvious cause for the cough, such as asthma or the use of an ACE inhibitor, the cough will go away once the asthma is adequately treated or the use of the ACE inhibitors is stopped. 

With intensive therapy, a postnasal drip or reflux-related cough will usually resolve after three to four weeks. If ongoing, another cause should be considered. 

In conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis, the cough may never resolve. Understandably, this can be frustrating and debilitating.

Some people even become embarassaed to go out in public and try to supress the cough, which may lead to other problems. Persistent violent coughing can also lead to urninanry incontinence problems.

Seek help if your cough isn’t going away. New treatments are being developed to tackle the problem of a resistant chornic cough, where no cause can be identified or where the cough is ongoing despite appropriate therapy.  

Reviewed by Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. MBChB, MRCP(UK), Dip HIV(Man), MMED, FCP(SA), Cert Pulm(SA), PhD. February 2018.

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