Cough is rather a symptom than a disease. It is therefore important that coughs are not neglected. An occasional cough is good as it helps clear the air passages of foreign matter, insignificant infections, and other irritants. However, a persistent cough is not to be neglected as it is a symptom of some underlying medical condition which may be serious or insignificant. To help one decide, a cough is classified as a chronic cough if it persists for eight weeks or longer in adults and four weeks in children. If a person is showing any serious symptoms which demand attention, it is better to call a doctor as a matter of caution.
A chronic cough can be caused by a cold with running nose, a feeling of liquid running down the back of one’s throat—nasal drip, hoarse throat, sour rising and sour taste in mouth—acid reflux, wheezing, breathlessness, and in rare cases coughing up blood. That last one is serious enough to demand medical consultation especially if copious quantities of blood are brought out. Home remedies like a warm saline gargle, steam inhalation, and the like should set right cold and running nose. Sometimes some antihistamines may be called for. Nasal drip, acid reflux, and wheezing and breathlessness are serious enough to warrant a consultation with a physician. As a general rule, coughs that linger for weeks, disturb sleep, cause tiredness, or interfere with work or school and bring up blood or colored sputum warrant a visit to a qualified health provider. Long duration smoking leads to a condition called COPD or Chronic Oppressive Pulmonary Disorder which generally consists of chronic bronchitis and in advanced conditions Emphysema. Chronic Bronchitis often causes colored sputum to be brought out during spells of coughing. In adults, a condition called Pertussis or a whooping cough is often missed to be diagnosed.
Diagnosis is done by examining the history, a physical examination, and if required, by an imaging, lung function test, or an endoscopic examination and biopsy as per requirements. These will help the doctor to arrive at a definitive diagnosis and institute systematic treatment as required to cure a cough.