A cough can signal anything from a simple allergy to a cold or flu to a serious illness. But when it comes to chronic cough causes, the answers may surprise you. A number of seemingly unrelated conditions and underlying triggers can result in chronic cough. Let’s take a look at some of the most common culprits.
Acid Reflux: Chronic Cough Culprit #1
Far and away the most overlooked cause of chronic cough is acid reflux. Also known as heartburn and GERD, acid reflux occurs when gastric acid flows back up from the stomach into the esophagus. Because the esophagus has no protective lining, the acid can cause chest pain (heartburn), throat irritation and coughing, and/or asthma-like symptoms. Reflux can also result in inhalation of stomach acids into the lungs, which may trigger a sudden, choking cough.
A 56-year-old woman once consulted me with a chronic cough that had been diagnosed as adult-onset asthma. For over a year she used prescription inhalers religiously, but the cough persisted. I suggested she try deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), an herb that helps prevent heartburn by improving the quality and quantity of the protective mucosa lining the stomach and esophagus. She started taking it before every meal, and within one month she was rid of her chronic cough—and her asthma inhalers, too!
I suggest you investigate this common underlying cause, even if you have none of the familiar reflux symptoms. Try not to overindulge (overeating is a primary cause of reflux) and skip any foods that upset your stomach (fried or fatty foods, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and peppermint are common triggers). In addition, chew DGL tablets 20 minutes before meals. You can find DGL online and in health food stores.
A Rarely Recognized Cause of Chronic Cough
Another overlooked cause of chronic cough, which many physicians are unaware of, is sensory neuropathic cough (also called sensory neurogenic cough). This disorder affects the sensory nerves in the larynx, causing them to become hypersensitive and triggering the cough reflex.
Neuropathic chronic cough often responds to medications such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline, gabapentin, or tramadol, which are typically used to treat other types of neuropathy. Improvements are generally noted within a couple of weeks, and the medication is continued for 3-6 months or longer, if necessary.
Linda came to Whitaker Wellness with a 20-year history of a serious dry chronic cough. She had been treated for asthma, allergies, acid reflux, infections, but nothing helped. Because she had failed all the usual treatments, her Whitaker Wellness physician suspected she might have sensory neuropathic cough and started her on a low dose of amitriptyline (50 mg per day). Within two weeks Linda’s cough was gone—for the first time in 20 years!
If you suffer with a chronic cough that you just can’t get a handle on, talk to your doctor about neuropathic cough.
Rule Out Respiratory Disorders
It may seem obvious but some of the top chronic cough causes are respiratory problems. Most respiratory conditions can be improved with natural treatments. For instance, many asthma sufferers find profound relief with oral or intravenous magnesium. Emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often respond to inhaled glutathione. Expectorants like liquid potassium iodide (SSKI) and mucolytics such as N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) help clear lung congestion, which is a hallmark of COPD. And if you have bronchitis, increasing your vitamin C intake and adding magnesium and NAC to your regimen can work wonders.
The recommended daily doses of oral magnesium and NAC are 1,000 mg and 1,200 mg, respectively, taken in divided doses throughout the day. For SSKI, the usual amount is 3–6 drops in water 2–3 times a day. (Be aware that continuous use of SSKI requires periodic monitoring of thyroid hormones.) The suggested dose of vitamin C is 500 mg 3-5 times per day.
Other Treatments for Chronic Cough
Several home remedy treatments for chronic cough are also effective. Try drinking warm liquids such as soup or hot herbal tea to soothe the throat. Gargle with salt water to get rid of a cough caused by a sore throat. Drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated. And try sucking on xylitol candies to help keep the mouth and throat moist.
Finally, you should check your medicine cabinet. Several prescription drugs are known to be chronic cough causes as well. ACE inhibitors typically used to treat heart conditions are notorious for causing a dry, chronic cough. Another class of drugs used to treat cardiovascular concerns—beta blockers—can also be problematic, though to a lesser degree.
As is the case with respiratory concerns, heart disease can be safely and effectively treated without dangerous medications. You can read more about the Whitaker Wellness Institute’s drug-free approach to treating cardiovascular concerns here.
Say Goodbye to Chronic Cough for Good
The bottom line is you don’t have to live with the annoyance of a chronic cough. Look for underlying and often overlooked chronic cough causes, try these treatments, and say goodbye to that cough for good.