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Produced by Trusted Studios for Merck in Collaboration with American Lung Association and Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

When a Cough Won’t Go Away

It may start with a tickly feeling at the back of the throat, which can be triggered by breathing something into the airways, like dust or secondhand smoke, which can bring about a strong urge to cough.

This is the body’s cough reflex, which protects the airways when they are irritated. But what happens when this reflex leads to coughing more than usual or the cough becomes long lasting and starts to impact health-related quality of life? When this happens in adults, it may be a condition called chronic cough, which is defined as a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks.

Chronic cough is commonly associated with other health conditions, such as asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), upper airway cough syndrome (UACS) and non-asthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis (NAEB). To determine if a person has chronic cough, a healthcare provider may ask questions about medical history, perform a physical exam, and run tests, such as chest x-rays, throat swabs, blood samples, and more if needed. In some patients with chronic cough, treatment of another underlying condition does not help resolve the cough, or another associated condition can’t be identified. Any adult can develop the condition, but it affects more women than men. The typical person living with the condition is a woman in her 50s.

The mid adult woman, working from home because of the pandemic, coughs into her elbow.SDI Productions/Getty Images

People with chronic cough commonly cough in “bouts” that they can’t control. When this happens persistently, it can impact a person– physically, socially and emotionally.

“In my experience, I have met people who have been living with chronic cough for 10, 20 and 30 years, and they tell me about the ways it affects their health – from dizziness and headaches, to stress urinary incontinence, to physical exhaustion and sleep disturbances,” says Bev Stewart, National Senior Director of Lung Disease Programs at the American Lung Association. “Understandably, this can take a toll on a person’s emotional well-being.”

People living with chronic cough may feel embarrassed or frustrated about their cough in social settings. Sometimes the cough may interfere with talking, daily activities, and social gatherings. It can also lead people to experience depressive feelings.

After years of supporting people living with chronic cough, Bev has come to describe the condition as one that can be a “life disruptor.” She explains, “One of the common themes I have heard from patients is how disruptive it can be to live with this condition, because they never know when they are going to start coughing. Will a coughing bout start while watching a movie at the theater or in the middle of a fancy dinner? How do they handle it – do they stay where they are or excuse themselves? Do they avoid activities where persistent coughing may bother others? People living with chronic cough tell me they have to answer these questions all the time. I see how this can be frustrating and isolating. Patients tell me they want someone to listen and acknowledge what they are going through.”

woman on bench coughingNatalie Board/Shutterstock

To help people living with chronic cough feel heard and understood, Merck partnered with the American Lung Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to create The Cough Chronicles. Designed to support people living with chronic cough, The Cough Chronicles is a new resource that offers educational information about the condition and patient testimonials. Additionally, the newly launched Chronic Cough Support Community on Inspire allows people who may have chronic cough to connect with those who might share similar experiences.

“The great thing about the chronic cough community is that it gives people a place to talk about their experiences and feelings about chronic cough, what they are going through and things that may be bothering them,” says Bev. “This type of forum can help people understand that they are not alone. I have seen first-hand the power of these connections and how people find relief in knowing that there are others out there with shared experiences.”

Bev adds that there are benefits of finding a community. “When people share their story, they help others. And when they help others, they also help themselves. It becomes a virtuous cycle – which is one of the reasons that people continue to come back to their community.”

To learn more about chronic cough and connect with others living with the condition, visit chroniccough.Inspire.com.