Why Do I Have a Lingering Cough

No one likes a guest that overstays his or her welcome, and that's especially true if the "guest" is a lingering cough. Whether your cough started with a cold, flu or allergy, it's often one of the last symptoms to clear up. Here are a few of the top reasons why that dreaded cough might keep on going (and going, and going...) way longer than you'd like.


Symptoms From a Cold or Flu

The symptoms of a nasty cold or flu typically come on strong in the first few days. It starts with a sore throat and sneezing and advances to a runny nose, body aches, fever and usually a nasty cough. When you're in the throes of your cold or flu, you might have a productive cough, which means you'll cough up thick clear, white, yellow or green mucus.

As your cold or flu starts to subside, it may transform into a dry cough – meaning you won't cough up mucus. Dry coughs might have one thing in common – they’re all annoying and disruptive – but they can have a few underlying causes, including allergies (also called allergic rhinitis) and a cold or flu.


Exposure to an Allergen

Sometimes a lingering cough is caused or aggravated by an allergic reaction to something in your environment. Allergens trigger irritation and inflammation in your respiratory tract, causing symptoms like sneezing, runny nose and coughing. You might also develop post-nasal drip — excess mucus draining into your throat, which can cause a sore throat and contribute to your cough. These symptoms usually occur whenever you're exposed to an allergen, then resolve when the allergen goes away. So if you're allergic to something relatively constant in your environment (like dust mites in your bedding or smoke particles drifting over from the condo next door), you might suffer from extended bouts of coughing.


Not Getting Enough Sleep

If you're burning the candle at both ends, your demanding schedule might contribute to your persistent coughing. Sleeping gives your body a chance to recharge, and that includes maintaining an immune system strong enough to fight off the cold and flu. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine[1] found that people who log less than seven hours of shut-eye each night were almost three times more likely to catch a cold than people sleeping eight hours or more. Since each cold may mean weeks of coughing, selling yourself short on sleep may mean a lot more coughing in the long run.



While some lingering coughs are simply annoying, others might indicate a serious underlying health issue. A cough that continues to get worse, even after other flu symptoms subside, might signal that you’ve developed pneumonia. See a doctor if you have a fever that lasts more than a few days, or if your symptoms seem to improve but then your cough starts getting progressively worse. Seek immediate medical attention if you’re having trouble breathing.


How to Get Cough Relief

If you're struggling with a persistent cough, over-the-counter medicine may help. Delsym® 12 Hour cough relief has a patented time-release formula for long-lasting cough suppression that can provide relief for up to 12 hours.

If your cough lasts more than seven days, you should consult a doctor to rule out an underlying condition. A range of health issues from asthma to sleep apnea might contribute to chronic coughing. An examination from your doctor can help you identify the cause of your cough and the best way to treat it.


Whether caused by a cold, flu or allergy, your lingering cough might not be improving for these reasons.



  • causes of a cough
  • lingering cough causes
  • reasons for a lingering cough


[1] JAMA Internal Medicine: Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold