Sponsored by Merck

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Coughing is normally a reflex your body uses to protect your airway when it’s irritated from things like excessive mucus, harmful irritants or other substances we can breathe in. In some people, that reflex may become disordered, leading to a long-lasting cough or chronic cough.

Chronic cough is defined as a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks. In the U.S., an estimated 5% of adults live with this condition. It’s more common in women than in men – especially women in their 50s.

People with the condition commonly cough in “bouts” they cannot control and usually feel a strong urge to cough before a coughing bout starts. They may also experience a sensation described as a “tickle” in the throat. Chronic cough can be triggered by many things, including dust, secondhand smoke, strong smells, laughing, singing and even cold air.

Candis’ experience living with chronic cough

Chronic cough may have a physical, social, and emotional impact on people. They may feel embarrassed or frustrated about their cough in social settings. Candis S., who has been living with chronic cough for over a decade, has experienced this firsthand.

“It’s emotionally difficult and physically draining to live with chronic cough. I’m often tired, and my body and chest hurt from the constant coughing,” she explains. “Sometimes I cough so hard I get cramps in my back or I nearly throw up.”

Candis no longer travels by plane and even avoids attending concerts, movies and weddings, when possible. “I limit where I go out in public and try to get in and out of stores as fast as I can,” Candis explains. “I’ve had to adjust my life and am careful not to let my cough disrupt other people’s lives.”

A physician’s perspective on the condition

Dr. Warner Carr, a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist, has been providing care to people living with chronic cough for more than a decade. “Helping people living with chronic cough is both rewarding and, at times, frustrating. It’s rewarding when I hear that I’ve helped validate the condition and experiences of my patients, but frustrating because I know the long journey some people are on before they receive a diagnosis.”

Dr. Carr understands the many challenges patients with chronic cough face and offers the following advice. He encourages people to work with their health care provider to understand what may be causing their cough and to seek support from friends and family.

Resources to support people living with chronic cough

If you have a persistent cough, you know how navigating it can, at times, be difficult. It can be difficult to explain to your doctor how often or bad your cough is and how it may affect your daily life. Fortunately, CoughTracker, a free and easy-to-use healthy living app, is available to help track and record the number of times you cough. This resource may help you have a productive conversation with your doctor by providing details about how often you cough and potential cough patterns.

For more information about chronic cough and to hear others’ perspectives on the condition, visit The Cough Chronicles, an educational resource sponsored by Merck in collaboration with the American Lung Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and the Allergy & Asthma Network to support those living with the condition.