Cough is a common and important respiratory symptom that can produce significant complications for patients and be a diagnostic challenge for physicians. An organized approach to evaluating cough begins with classifying it as acute, subacute, or chronic in duration. Acute cough lasting less than 3 weeks may indicate an acute underlying cardiorespiratory disorder but is most commonly caused by a self-limited viral upper respiratory tract infection (eg, common cold). Subacute cough lasting 3 to 8 weeks commonly has a postinfectious origin; among the causes, Bordetella pertussis infection should be included in the differential diagnosis. Chronic cough lasts longer than 8 weeks. When a patient is a nonsmoker, is not taking an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor, and has a normal or near-normal chest radiograph, chronic cough is most commonly caused by upper airway cough syndrome, asthma, nonasthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis, or gastroesophageal reflux disease alone or in combination.
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