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Cough in Seniors: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

The Hyfe Mind


September 14, 2021
CoughPro is not a medical product. It is a wellness app intended only for users to obtain a better understanding of their cough. It is not intended to diagnose, monitor, or treat any illness.

We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.

An older man lying in bed

StatPearls reports that cough is one of the most common medical conditions in the world.

In fact, coughing is responsible for about thirty million clinical visits per year in the United States. And while the occasional cough is normal, as it expels irritants from the lungs, a persistent cough that lingers for more than eight weeks is a health concern that needs to be taken seriously. This type of cough is considered to be “chronic” by health professionals, and it often occurs as a result of an underlying medical condition.

Cough is particularly problematic for the senior population. Older members of our society are often at higher risk for serious illness, and even a seemingly minor health issue can have devastating consequences for them.

Let’s dive into the causes and symptoms of cough in seniors. Then, we’ll take a look at some of the treatments that can help with this all-too-common condition.

Coughs can result in many different symptoms, such as a stuffy nose, shortness of breath, wheezing, sore throat, hoarse voice, and heartburn. In many cases, you may even feel mucus dripping down the back of your throat. In rare and severe cases, coughs may even produce blood.

Chronic coughs can impact the overall quality of life. Chronic coughs disrupt sleep, which can cause physical exhaustion, headaches, and abdominal pain. In addition, as an older person, you are already more vulnerable to insomnia because your body produces less melatonin, and these effects can be amplified if they aren’t monitored closely.

Causes of Cough and Respiratory Infections in Seniors

Here is an overview of some of the major causes of coughs in seniors:

  • Postnasal dripThis is when your sinuses produce extra mucus, which then drips down the back of your throat into your lungs and needs to be expelled by coughing.
  • AsthmaAsthma is a scary condition that can leave you short of breath and wheezing in response to a trigger. Triggers may be due to environmental irritants, exercise, or other causes.
  • Acid reflux – A condition that causes extreme discomfort, acid reflux makes anyone with it think twice before having seconds of a spicy, gut-irritating dish! Due to the stomach being positioned just underneath the lungs, irritation from acid reflux can cause coughing.
  • Respiratory infections – In general, respiratory infections include afflictions such as the flu, the common cold, and pneumonia. These are more common as you get older.
  • Maintenance drugs – Maintenance drugs refer to those medications that are taken regularly, such as those for high blood pressure. Some may have side effects that include coughing.
  • Inhaling an object – When something “goes down the wrong way” and you breathe in an irritant that should have been swallowed, your body will cough to expel it. If the object (food, saliva, or stomach contents) cannot be expelled, you will continue coughing. At this point, choking is a serious risk

Although rare, a chronic cough can also arise from more serious medical conditions like cystic fibrosis. Patients who have a diagnosed medical condition, or believe they may be developing one and that their cough resulted from said disease, may be advised by their doctor to get an X-ray or CT scan to obtain a more accurate diagnosis.

Treating a Cough

The specific treatment for a chronic cough will depend on its cause. For instance, if you have acid reflux, you might be prescribed medication to neutralize the acid production. But if the cause of the cough is fungal or bacterial, you will need to take antibiotics for it instead.

Otherwise, your doctor might prescribe specific cough medications, such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, and antibiotics to clear the respiratory tract.

Non-Medicinal Treatments of Cough

While medication may be necessary for many coughs, some natural cures bear consideration.

Natural Treatment of Wet Coughs

For instance, mild coughs caused by irritation and mucus build-up often respond well to simple warm water or a tea drink. 

This also may help with any cough-related chest discomfort the patient may be experiencing.

Natural Treatment of Dry Coughs

On the other hand, dry coughs will generally respond well to increased moisture in the air. This can be easily accomplished through the use of a humidifier, by regularly spending time leaning over a bowl of hot water with a towel covering your head and the bowl, or spending time in a warm, steamy shower.

Preventing Diseases and Infections in Older People

Thus far, we’ve discussed treatments for coughs and related infections at length. However, we haven’t discussed much in terms of prevention.

Preventing disease often comes down to a few basic things:

  • Practicing good hygiene – Washing hands before and after eating is perhaps the most basic advice anyone could give, but it’s also one of the most useful tips. No one needs to be obsessive about their hygiene, but simple, tried-and-true methods work well for preventing disease.
  • Exercising – The ACSM recommends that all adults achieve 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise or physical activity a week. This includes walking fast enough to get out of breath, cycling, and swimming. In addition, everyone should strive to perform some flexibility and resistance training a few times a week as well. This could include stretching, yoga, pilates, and weight lifting.
  • Eating a healthy diet – While there are many different thoughts about what constitutes a healthy diet, most health professionals agree that our plates should be filled with veggies, whole grains, high-quality protein, and plenty of fiber-rich foods.

Accessing Health Care as a Senior

Because the focus of this article is on cough in seniors, it would behoove us to discuss the issue of eldercare. Unfortunately, eldercare isn’t cheap and as an older person, you may feel you cannot afford good healthcare. However, there are ways to navigate this concern. 

In the U.S., patients can apply for federal health insurance. They’ll need to look for a local Medicare provider that can offer a plan suitable for their particular treatment needs. The following section may also apply to your situation if you are living in the U.S.

A Few Examples of Care Providers

In Colorado, Catalyst offers basic Medicare coverage for local seniors, including sometimes funding your trips to the clinic. Similarly, Kelsey Care offers several Medicare plans in Texas, including “Rx Select,” which offers Part D. Part D helps cover the cost of prescription drugs. So, if a doctor advises you to take a prescription cough medicine, this can help reduce the costs. Generally, if you are looking for a Medicare health provider, a good place to start is the government’s Medicare website.

Patients can also investigate local healthcare organizations that offer programs for anyone over the age of sixty-five. For example, the Area Agency on Aging in Oregon provides long-term medical care to seniors, including “disease prevention” coverage, which could help pay for visits to the clinic and medication.

Patients can also check out more organizations offering Medicare coverage here.


Cough is one of the most common medical conditions in the world. Despite that, not every chronic cough needs treatment with medication. If a particular cough is due to mucus build-up in the throat, drinking warm water may resolve the issue. For dry coughs, increasing the moisture content in the air through the use of a cool-mist humidifier might be just what the doctor ordered.

Although it is not always possible to treat a chronic cough completely, there are many methods by which you can prevent the symptoms and manage the condition. You should always start by asking your doctor about what could be causing the cough and the appropriate treatment options.

Your Cough Matters

Based on our results in Google Play & App Store
  • Excellent, insightful
    By dust mite dan - Apr 7, 2023 - App Store
    This app is easy to use, aesthetically pleasing and has provided me with useful information about my cough and disease patterns that have improved my overall health!

    Try CoughPro for Free
  • Great app!
    by Imtfx0019 — Dec 6, 2022 - App Store
    Impressed with how well it detected my coughs, even very slight ones.
    Try CoughPro for Free
  • App is Great!
    by HBert Quach — Jan 22, 2023, - Google Play
    App is great at tracking cough when little ones are sick. I treat it as a early warning indicator before the cold gets back. Customer service is awesome, they actually respond to all my questions.
    Try CoughPro for Free
  • Great Experience
    by Christi Hammock — Mar 7, 2023, - Google Play

    I had an issue logging into the new app but I contacted the support team and they were awesome in helping me figure out the issue. It turned out to be a technical issue which they resolved very quickly and I was kept in the loop on the status from start to finish. This app is really helpful when talking to my doctor too..
    Try CoughPro for Free
  • Impressive app
    By KayakTina - Apr 7, 2023 - App Store
    "The app accurately is recording my coughs with excellent ways to review the results. I can add notes to help me identify patterns or have accurate information for my physicians. I’ve hoped for an app like this for years to help me accurately track the amount of coughing I’m doing"
    Try CoughPro for Free
  • Accurate count of coughs
    by Beardonna — Mar 8, 2023 - App Store

    Just installed the app. Very accurate measuring coughs so far! Cannot wait to see how much coughing I do while sleeping. I'll have a better picture to discuss with my physician at my next visit.

    Try CoughPro for Free

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