At What Point Should We Take A Cough Seriously?

At What Point Should We Take A Cough Seriously?

We’ve all had a cough before, but at what point does that endless tickle or constant throat clearing become a long-lasting problem? For some, a persistent cough can be the sign of something other than a passing cold. We spoke with Dr Amy Bibby, Head of Operations and Doctor at Qured, to find out what could be causing your chronic cough.

What can cause a chronic cough?

A chronic cough can be caused by a range of illnesses and conditions. One leading cause of a chronic cough is smoking, known as a ‘smoker’s cough’. However, for non-smokers, a chronic cough may still be of concern, caused by postnasal drip, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux) and chronic bronchitis. Other less common causes of a persistent cough can be caused by heart failure, lung infections, pertussis (whooping cough), lung cancer, and psychological disorders.

What is a postnasal drip and what causes it?

A postnasal drip is when mucus from your nose drips down the throat and tickles the nerves of the nasopharynx, triggering a cough. It is typically caused by viruses, allergies, sinusitis (sinus infection), dust particles or airborne chemicals, which irritate the nasal membranes and cause them to generate more mucus that tends to be watery and runny. You can find out if your chronic cough is caused by postnasal drip by taking non-prescription decongestants or antihistamine tablets, which should help alleviate the symptoms. Alternatively, try inhaling steam from a pot of hot water and using saline nose sprays.

How does acid reflux make you cough?

Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, occurs when stomach contents, or acids, travel up to the oesophagus instead of down into the intestines. Although the main symptoms of this are heartburn, burping and a sour taste in the mouth, the acid also irritates nerves in the lower oesophagus, triggering a cough reflex. To avoid acid reflux, consult a medical professional. In the immediate term, avoid alcohol and foods that can trigger it, such as chocolate, caffeine, garlic, onions and citrus fruits.

Why can a cough get worse when lying down?

A cough can often seem worse at night or when lying down because, unlike in the day when you are constantly coughing and working to clear the mucus in your airways, you may wake up with a build-up of mucus that you need to get rid of. The mucus also tends to build up more quickly when you aren’t active, leading to a persistent cough. Lying down can also aggravate postnasal drip and acid reflux – two of the biggest causes of a chronic cough. 
Very rarely, it could be caused by heart failure, which is a condition whereby your heart does not pump as effectively as it should. Coughing at night (therefore sometimes when lying down) can sometimes be a symptom of undiagnosed asthma in children or poorly controlled asthma in adults.

Does alcohol make you cough?

Consuming moderate amounts of alcohol cannot give you a chronic cough, although long-term, heavy drinkers can suffer from cardiomyopathy, an inflammation of the heart muscle – but it’s rare. This condition often sees symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, and coughing (though chest pain is usually the most pressing symptom). Alcohol can also trigger acid reflux (see above), known to induce coughing. 

Can gluten make you cough?

If you are allergic, sensitive or intolerant to gluten, it is possible to develop a chronic cough. This is because the intake of gluten can cause inflammation in the body, which can manifest itself in a number of different ways – one of which can be an excess of mucus, of which coughing would be your body’s natural reflex. In order to alleviate a chronic cough that is related to a gluten allergy, you can reduce, lower or cut out your intake of gluten.

Are coughs worse in winter?

Colder weather can aggravate an existing cough; however, it shouldn’t worsen the cough. Some people do cough when they suddenly breathe in cold air but this is usually short-lived. There is a misconception that coughs are worse during the wintertime because colds and flu are more common – illnesses that could both result in coughing as a symptom.

How can you stop or reduce a chronic cough?

The steps taken to stop or reduce a chronic cough will depend on what the cough stems from. In order to fully understand the symptoms you’re experiencing and the treatment for it, it is always best to contact a medical professional. However, for short-term relief, make sure you stay hydrated, drink hot drinks, and sometimes try lozenges, as they numb the back of the throat, preventing irritation. Take steamy showers when possible, and avoid inhaling irritants in the air. Possible irritants can include but are not limited to perfume, bathroom sprays, scented candles, and diffusers.
Visit for more information.

DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at

More from Life

Fashion. Beauty. Culture. Life. Home
Delivered to your inbox, daily