Living with chronic cough: A patient’s perspective

Did you know that approximately 5% of adults in the United States live with chronic cough? Although the condition can affect both women and men, the typical person with chronic cough is a woman in her 50s.

A cough is a reflex your body uses to protect your airway when it is irritated by excessive mucus and irritants, like dust or smoke. In some people, that reflex may trigger coughing more than usual, leading to a persistent cough.

When a cough lasts longer than eight weeks, it is considered chronic. Patients with chronic cough commonly cough in “bouts” they cannot control, and usually feel a strong urge to cough before a coughing bout starts.

This condition can have a physical, social and emotional impact on patients. People may feel embarrassed or frustrated about their cough in social settings, and it can interfere with some daily activities and social gatherings.

Dotty, who has lived with chronic cough for more than 35 years, is a trained performer and music teacher, so singing is an integral part of her daily life. Dotty has found that her chronic cough has determined the type of work she can take on and music she can perform. She says, “I’ve definitely had to mold my career around my cough. I transitioned from classical to jazz music mostly because it is less formal and easier to control my breathing and unpredictable coughing.” Dotty feels that her chronic cough has at times limited her lifestyle and impacts the places she can go.

Although Dotty enjoys going to the theater, she only attends performances if she can secure an aisle seat where she can quickly get up and leave if a coughing bout starts. Similarly, she tends to avoid large gatherings, parties or places where she must yell to be heard. Dotty says, “If it’s noisy and I have to raise my voice, I have found that it brings on the coughing, so I do have to miss out on events like those.”

Dotty’s journey with chronic cough has been decades long and full of doctor appointments. Despite her persistence in speaking with many different healthcare providers, Dotty learned that she had to be her own advocate. “I did a lot of research and investigating to learn about chronic cough and what I could do next,” she says. Eventually, she found a doctor who was able to help her manage the condition after making multiple emergency room visits and seeking out regional specialists, but over the years she found that it was also beneficial to connect with others who shared similar experiences.

The Cough Chronicles is a resource that provides educational information about the condition and patient testimonials. It was developed by Merck, in partnership with the American Lung Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Additionally, the chronic cough community on Inspire allows people who may have chronic cough to connect with those who may share similar experiences. Visit to join the community and hear from others impacted by the condition.

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