Chronic Cough

The treatment of cough is directed toward the particular by the cause. However, patients may get symptomatic relief from over-the-counter cough medicines containing guaifenesin and/or dextromethorphan, drinking lots of water, inhaling steam, and using cough lozenges. In severe cases a doctor may prescribe codeine, which is an effective cough suppressant.

  • Asthma: Inhaled bronchodilators and inhaled steroids are given to decrease inflammation of the airways, and reduce wheezing. In some cases, short-term oral steroids are prescribed.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Treatment includes avoiding foods that increase reflux, avoiding meals before lying down, elevating the head while sleeping, and taking medication such as famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), or ranitidine (Zantac) to decrease stomach acidity.
  • Sinus problems and postnasal drip: Use of decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may improve symptoms of postnasal drip. Inhaled nasal steroids are very effective in treating allergic rhinitis (hay fever), a common cause of cough. Additionally, other nasal inhalers like ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) can relieve postnasal drip. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the cause is determined to be sinusitis.
  • Infections: Bacterial pneumonia and bronchitis is typically treated with antibiotics such as cephalosporins and azithromycin (Zithromax). If the pneumonia is close to the chest wall inflammation of the surface of the lung can cause pain, known as pleurisy and analgesics can be helpful. Cough suppressants are used with caution in these situations because clearing the lung of the infected mucus by coughing helps clear the infection.

Most bronchitis in adults is from virus infections. Therefore, treatment is much the same as that of the common cold including rest, fluids, analgesics, and humidification. Some people find expectorant cough medicines containing guaifenesin helpful in alleviating their discomfort. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate a viral bronchitis from a bacterial bronchitis, and antibiotics are prescribed. In some cases, asthmatics can produce green mucus that looks infected. Your doctor can have the mucus examined to determine if an infection is present.