NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There’s good news for people with a chronic cough they just can’t seem to kick. As it turns it, it might not be asthma, a cold, or even acid reflux as previously thought.

A collapsing trachea, or windpipe, used to be thought of as pretty rare, but now doctors think it may be the cause of that pesky tickle felt by nearly 2 million people. A new less invasive robotic procedure might offer a cure.

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For Richard McGurk’s life was filled with constant uncontrollable coughing. For nearly 3 years the 65 year old could barely hold a conversation without a coughing fit—or worse.

“I had problems sleeping. Whenever I lay down to go to sleep it wasn’t even 10 of 15 minutes before I woke up in a coughing fit–to the point where I had to actually get out of bed and sit in a chair and go to sleep that way,” said cough patient Richard McGurk.

The chronic cough led to sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma. Doctors still couldn’t find a cause, until McGurk came to see Dr. Richard Lazzaro at Lenox Hill Hospital, who suspected the real cause of the cough was that the cartilage in McGurk’s trachea had softened with age and was collapsing when he exhaled.

“This is a collapse of the airway where the opening closes to greater than 90% of its normal size,” said Dr. Lazzaro.

It takes a special chest scan called a dynamic CT to diagnose the condition called Tracheobronchomalacia (TBM).

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Then McGurk became the first patient in the world to have his TBM repaired robotically.

It’s an operation that used to be so invasive, most patients refused it. Now the robot allows Dr. Lazzaro to stiffen the softened trachea.

“By sewing a mesh that’s woven out of suture material to the back of the trachea and the bronchial tubes that adds rigidity to it and over time as your body heals more scar tissue will come down and make that support structure more rigorous, more firm, and more durable,” said Dr. Lazzaro.

McGurk’s cough and related medical problems are gone and he says he sleeps like a baby. He’s overwhelmed by the difference that he says changed his life.

“Such a game changer,” cried McGurk.

Since that first surgery Dr. Lazzaro has performed more than 50 similar operations. He says TBM is often misdiagnosed because it looks like so many other lung conditions.

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But if there’s a chronic cough and medications don’t work, a dynamic CT scan could reveal the real diagnosis.