Chronic Winter Cough

What's causing that nagging chronic winter cough?

The long winter months can seem even longer when you have a cough that just won't go away. Chronic winter cough is a persistent cough that lingers past the common timeframe of a cold or is triggered by something other than a virus. Continue reading to learn about chronic winter cough.

A chronic cough is typically classified as a cough lasting for eight weeks or longer and is one of the most common reasons people see a doctor during the winter. And while a cough is a protective mechanism that helps your lungs evacuate irritants, it's actually a symptom of another issue in your body. It's important to understand where your chronic cough may be coming from so that it can be treated properly.

Reasons Chronic Winter Cough May Occur

High blood pressure medication

If you're on medication to treat high blood pressure, it can create a cough or cause it to stick around longer than it should. A lot of these medications contain ACE inhibitors which work to treat high blood pressure by increasing blow flow and relaxing blood vessels.

One of the side effects of this type of medication is a dry, persistent cough brought on by an increase in bradykinins which can trigger the cough reflex. It's also thought that the medication causes irritants to accumulate in airways resulting in a chronic cough.

Asthma

While a large percentage of asthma sufferers experience shortness of breath, wheezing, and tightness in the chest, chronic cough can also be a symptom. Asthma is thought to be one of the leading causes of a chronic cough. There is also a type of asthma called cough-predominant asthma where the only symptom is a cough, although with most asthma there will be a combination of symptoms.

An irritating cough that occurs at night can be the first sign of asthma. Doctors will generally prescribe an inhaler which contains medication that opens your airways. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe a steroid to reduce inflammation.

Not treating a cold properly

A cough can last for weeks after all other cold symptoms have subsided. Inflammation of the sinuses can lead to post nasal drip which in turn leads to a cough that lingers long after the viral infection. Post nasal drip irritates your throat making it sore. It's usually worse at night because your sinuses drain more easily while in a reclined position. This causes you to wake up in the morning coughing.

Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Believe it or not, some experts believe that acid reflux is a common trigger for chronic coughs. Foods that induce acid reflux can make a cough worse. With gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach acids travel back up into your esophagus. When it hits your voice box, it triggers your cough reflex. A chronic cough from GERD is generally felt after a heavy meal and is worse at night or early in the morning.

Overuse of nasal sprays

While nasal sprays can help a runny nose, overuse can cause the nasal membranes to swell which exacerbates a cough.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease caused by injury to the airways. The two types of COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. With chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways is chronically inflamed which triggers a chronic productive cough. In emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs are damaged, reducing the amount of oxygen your blood receives. This causes shortness of breath, wheezing and a dry cough.

Lung cancer

A persistent cough can be a sign of lung cancer, but it's rare for the only symptom to be a chronic cough. You will most likely have other symptoms like weight loss, fatigue, and chest pain. It is best, however, to get a chronic cough checked if it persists to rule out the possibility.

How to treat chronic winter cough

While coughing does have the important purpose of ridding your lungs of unwanted substances, a chronic winter cough can be an irritant and interfere with daily living. A lingering cough due to a virus, dry air, asthma, medication or overuse of nasal sprays can be easily treated, but seeing a doctor is a good practice to rule out anything more serious. Figuring out what's causing that nagging cough is the first step towards treatment.

Post viral coughs

Generally over the counter cough medicines will be enough to treat a cough that lingers past the initial cold or virus. Drinking a hot drink is also helpful as it soothes irritation and promotes secretions in the airways.

Heartburn

This cough is generally accompanied with an acid taste in your mouth. Avoid large, rich meals at night. Over the counter acid reflux medications can reduce the production of stomach acid and sleeping with an extra pillow may help to reduce the reflux of acid into your esophagus.

COPD

This is a serious condition that should always be treated by a doctor. If you're a smoker, quitting now is thought to lessen or abolish smoker's cough in up to 94% of patients.

Summary of chronic winter cough

Chronic winter cough: In general, staying hydrated to keep your throat lubricated is always a good practice to follow. Adding honey helps as it is a natural antiseptic. If you're getting over a cold or the flu, be sure to allow your body plenty of time to recover.

Try different over the counter remedies and don’t be afraid to ask your pharmacist about different kinds of treatments. And most importantly, know your symptoms so that you can find the most effective treatment for your particular cough.

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Last Reviewed:
July 25, 2017
Last Updated:
September 29, 2017