What can cause a cough?

Some of the main causes of short-term (acute) and persistent (chronic) coughs are outlined below.

Short-term coughs

Common causes of a short-term cough include:

  • an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) that affects the throat, windpipe or sinuses examples area cold , flu , laryngitis , sinusitis or whooping cough
  • a lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) that affects your lungs or lower airwaysexamples areacute bronchitis or pneumonia
  • an allergy , such as allergic rhinitis or hay fever
  • a flare-up of a long-term condition such as asthma , chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or chronic bronchitis
  • inhaled dust or smoke

In rare cases, a short-term cough may be the first sign of a health condition that causes apersistent cough.

Persistent coughs

A persistent cough may be caused by:

  • along-termrespiratory tract infection, such aschronic bronchitis
  • asthma this also usually causes other symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath
  • an allergy
  • smokinga smoker's cough can also be a symptom ofCOPD
  • bronchiectasis where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened
  • postnasal drip mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose, caused by a condition such as rhinitis orsinusitis
  • gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) where the throat becomesirritated by leaking stomach acid
  • a prescribed medicine, such as an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor (ACE inhibitor), which is used to treathigh blood pressure andcardiovascular disease

Rarely, a persistent cough can bea symptom of a more serious condition, such as lung cancer , heart failure , a pulmonary embolism (blood clot on the lung) or tuberculosis .

Coughs in children

Coughs in children often have similar causes to those mentioned above. For example, respiratory tract infections,asthma and GORD can all affect children.

Causes of coughs that are more common in children than adults include:

  • bronchiolitis amild respiratory tract infection that usually causes cold-like symptoms
  • croup this causes a distinctive barking cough and a harsh sound known as stridor when the childbreathes in
  • whooping cough look out for symptoms such as intense, hacking bouts of coughing, vomiting, and a"whoop" sound with each sharp intake of breath after coughing

Occasionally, a persistent cough in a child can be asign of a serious long-term condition, such as cystic fibrosis.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 21 Dec 2018