a man holding his hand up in front of his face

Coughing is an interesting physiological phenomenon, and it’s an important one that can serve us well in a variety of contexts. Most of us have had the experience of persistently coughing as we deal with colds and other illnesses; those of us with problematic respiratory habits, such as smoking, also experience coughing as part of our daily lives. 

Even if you don’t have an underlying disease or a cause of inflammation, it’s perfectly normal to cough once in a while or several times throughout the day.

But what if you have a persistent cough that doesn’t go away – and you don’t know what’s causing it?

Try not to panic. There are a handful of potential causes.

Mold and Mildew

Persistent coughing could be a signal that mold or mildew growth is lurking in your house. Mold and mildew are both types of fungi that grow in dark, moist environments. Most species of mold and mildew are harmless to humans by default, but there’s a chance a dangerous species is growing in your house, and there’s a chance you’re allergic to one of the typically innocuous species.

Either way, it’s a good idea to do a clean sweep and control for mold and mildew.

  • Control moisture. The best way to prevent or eliminate mold and mildew is to control moisture. Without a reliable source of moisture, mold, and mildew cannot grow and cannot continue existing. Opening windows, running ventilation fans, and circulating air with box fans can help dry chronically moist areas; dehumidifiers can also be used in certain, excessively moist areas. Bathrooms, kitchens, and basements tend to be hot spots for mold and mildew, so take extra care in controlling moisture in these areas.
  • Clean up the existing problem. See if you can track down the problem. Most problematic species of mold and mildew grow in ways that are visually recognizable; oftentimes, you can clear the problem with a diluted bleach mixture and a good round of scrubbing. However, if the mold and mildew growth is deep within your walls, you may not be able to see it – and you may need professional help to clean it up.
  • Use air filters. After tracking down and fixing the root cause, consider using better air filters to filter out the spores and residue circulating in your home. Using these air filters can help a variety of other problems as well, as we’ll see.


If your cough isn’t attributable to mold or mildew, there’s a chance it’s an allergic reaction to something else. Dust, pollen, and pet dander are common allergic triggers – and there’s a chance these are affecting your lungs, even if you haven’t suffered from allergies in the past. Consider using more air filtering, getting more fresh air, and using over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medicine to control your symptoms. If these approaches fail, talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing.


It’s possible to develop asthma at any age, even though it’s more commonly associated with children. If your cough won’t go away, it could be a sign of asthma developing. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this without medical assistance, so if you suspect you might be developing asthma, make an appointment with your primary care doctor as soon as possible.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be another root cause. It’s typically known as a digestive issue, but it can affect your lungs and throat as well.

Fortunately, most people can control the symptoms of this ailment with the following:

  • Weight loss. Many people experience reflux symptoms because of excessive weight. If you’re currently overweight or obese, consider reducing your daily consumed calories, exercising more, and working to lose that extra weight.
  • Dietary changes. Sometimes, eliminating triggering foods can solve the problem. Avoid spicy and acidic foods, as well as any foods that seem to trigger your symptoms.
  • Alcohol and tobacco elimination. The use of alcohol and tobacco products can also make GERD worse. Consider cutting them out entirely to see if you can reduce the prevalence of your cough.
  • Posture and sleeping changes. Some people benefit from changes to their posture and the way they sleep. Simply putting an extra pillow behind your head and neck, allowing you to sleep in a more upright position, may make you more comfortable. Also, avoid lying down on your back, especially after big meals.

Chronic Bronchitis

Some people chronically cough because of chronic bronchitis. This is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes in your lungs, resulting in an almost perpetual feeling that you need to cough. There are some interventions that can control your symptoms here, so talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing.


In very rare cases, chronic cough is an indication of cancer developing. It’s much more likely that you’re affected by one or more of the other problems we’ve discussed on this list, but it’s worth mentioning that cancer is a possibility. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your health.

Unfortunately, a chronic cough without a recognizable cause is such an ambiguous symptom that it’s almost impossible to speculate about a true root cause. There are many potential culprits, so it’s your responsibility to narrow down the possibilities and consult with a medical professional if you can’t make improvements on your own.