Anxiety Cough Symptoms, Chronic Cough and Nervous Cough Symptoms

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated February 11, 2022

Anxiety Cough Symptoms, Persistent Chronic Cough and Nervous Cough Symptoms

Anxiety Cough Symptoms, Persistent Cough, Nervous Cough Symptoms description:

You experience:

  • An anxiety cough, persistent cough, nervous cough, coughing when anxious and nervous
  • A frequent tickling in the throat and/or lungs that makes you cough
  • A persistent dry cough
  • A persistent non productive cough
  • Coughing, worse during anxious or stressful times and better when relaxed and less stressed
  • Difficulty taking a deep breath without coughing
  • Persistent wheezing that seems to be associated with your cough

These anxiety cough symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel the tickle and/or urge to cough once in a while and not that often, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time.

These anxiety cough symptoms may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

These anxiety cough symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

These anxiety cough symptoms cough can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. They can also come in waves, where it’s persistent one moment and eases off the next.

These anxiety cough symptoms can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

For many people, anxiety cough diminishes and subsides when resting, at night, or when sleeping. For others, however, anxiety cough can increase late in the day, at night, or when resting, relaxing, and/or sleeping.

Because anxiety affects each person uniquely, each person can have a unique anxiety cough experience.

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Why does anxiety cause a persistent anxiety cough?

Medical Advisory

There are many reasons why anxiety can cause a persistent cough. For example:

1. Suppressed immune system

Anxiety causes the body to produce the stress response. They are designed to give us an “extra boost” when danger is perceived so that we have an enhanced ability to either fight with or flee from the source of the danger. This “extra boost” occurs because the body suppresses all non-essential functions so that maximum awareness and energy can be diverted toward those systems, organs, and glands required for action when danger is perceived. This system works well when stress responses occur infrequently. When they occur too frequently, however, problems can occur.

For example, the body’s immune system is responsible for fighting off intruders, such as viruses and infection (bacteria). Since the body’s immune system isn’t part of the emergency response system, it is suppressed when we are anxious or stressed.[1] When the immune system is suppressed for prolonged periods, the body doesn’t have the resiliency to defend itself against these foreign invaders, which can allow them to take root.[2] Once the intruders have gained a foothold in the body, they can become entrenched if persistent elevated anxiety and stress continue to suppress the immune system. Even the use of antibiotics may not be successful in helping the body overcome infection when stress and anxiety remain high.

Because viruses and infections can cause coughs, persistently elevated stress and anxiety can cause coughs to linger much longer than they normally would because of the body’s diminished ability to win the fight. A healthy immune system is the body’s best defense against viruses and bacteria.

2. Vagus nerve hyperstimulation

The Vagus nerve, also referred to as the Cranial Nerve X, runs from the brain stem to the viscera - the internal organs of the body, specifically those within the chest (the heart or lungs) or abdomen (liver, pancreas or intestines). The Vagus nerve supplies nerve fibers to the pharynx (throat), larynx (voicebox), trachea (windpipe), lungs, heart, esophagus, the intestinal tract, and as far as the transverse portion of the colon. The Vagus nerve also brings sensory information back to the brain from the ear, tongue, pharynx, and larynx.

Because the Vagus nerve is a part of the nervous system, it can also be adversely affected by stress-response hyperstimulation,[3] since the stress response has its most dramatic effects on the body's nervous system.

A stress-response hyperstimulated nervous system can cause all sorts of problems, including those associated with the Vagus nerve and its functioning.[3] A common consequence of Vagus nerve overstimulation is a persistent dry cough and/or nervous cough. As hyperstimulation increases, so can the persistence of anxiety cough.

3. Shallow and rapid breathing

When stressed and/or anxious, many people breathe rapidly and shallowly.[4][5] While this type of breathing pattern generally isn't harmful in short durations it can cause the throat to become dry and raw if stress and/or anxiety are sustained.

Once the throat becomes dry and raw, it can cause a persistent tickling sensation that can cause a persistent dry cough. Moreover, persistent coughing can also irritate the throat, which can cause a persistent cycle of dry throat, coughing, irritated and dry throat, coughing, and so on.

There are other reasons why anxiety can cause a persistent cough. We describe two more common reasons in the Recovery Support area of our website. The above are the most notable.

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How to eliminate persistent anxiety cough?

Since all of the above reasons are related to anxiety and the stress it causes, reducing stress and dealing with your anxiety issues are the most effective ways to eliminate anxiety cough. Yes, reducing your body's stress can be helpful in alleviating anxiety cough, but dealing with the root of your anxiety issues is the most successful and long lasting solution to anxiety and its many sensations and symptoms, including anxiety cough.

There are some short-term remedies to consider. Here are a few:

  • Breathing in a more relaxed and regulated manner can prevent a dry throat and the coughing that can result from it.
  • Reducing your body's stress as much as possible can reduce anxiety cough relatively quickly.
  • Working at containing your anxious thinking can reduce stress responses and your body's overall reaction to elevated stress.

And so on (we list others in Chapter 9 in the Recovery Support area of our website).

Most importantly, however, is addressing the underlying factors associated with your problematic anxiety. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way of identifying and addressing anxiety’s underlying factors.[6][7][8] Once you've eliminated the cause of overly apprehensive behavior, you also eliminate the stress it causes and its resulting symptoms. The less anxious you are, the less anxiety symptoms you'll experience, including anxiety cough.

We also have to keep in mind that it can take a long time for the body to recover from stress-response hyperstimulation. We have to persevere with our recovery strategies in spite of the lack of apparent progress, and remain patient as the body recovers.

While anxiety cough can be bothersome, it’s NOT an indication of something more serious. Therefore, it needn’t be a cause for concern. It will disappear when the body’s stress has been returned to a healthy level and you’ve learned to contain your apprehensive behavior.

If you are having difficulty with anxiety, its symptoms, and troublesome worry, you might want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome problematic anxiety.

All of our recommended therapists have experienced anxiety disorder, have successfully overcome it, and are medication-free. Their years of personal and professional experience make them an excellent choice to work with on your road to recovery.

Visit our "Why Therapy" and "What Makes Our Therapists Unique" articles for more information.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Anxiety Cough.


1. American Psychological Association. “Stress Weakens the Immune System.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 23 Feb. 2006.

2. Segerstrom, Suzanne C., et al. “Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry.” NCBI PubMed, 7 Feb. 2006.

3. Canning, Brendan J. “Afferent nerves regulating the cough reflex: Mechanisms and Mediators of Cough in Disease.” US National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2010.

4. Folk, Jim and Folk, Marilyn. “The Stress Response And Anxiety Symptoms.”, August 2019.

5. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017.

6. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.

7. Driessen, Ellen, et al. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mood Disorders: Efficacy, Moderators and Mediators." Psychiatry Clinics of North America, Sep. 2010.

8. "CBT can be recommended as a gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with anxiety disorders." - Otte, Christian. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Anxiety Disorders: Current State of the Evidence." Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. Les Laboratoires Servier, Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.