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Post-viral cough: Why so stubborn?

Health & Science


Research shows that one in four adults experiences a lingering cough that can last up to eight weeks after a cold, flu or viral upper respiratory infection. This type of cough, which should eventually go away on its own, is very common during the cold season.

Experts refer to it as a post-viral cough as it usually occurs after a viral infection of the upper part of the respiration system.

Post-viral cough is usually caused by inflammation of airways, related to the initial respiratory infection or the post-nasal drip which happens when mucus drains into your throat.

Postnasal drip during the day can irritate your throat and vocal cords but gets much worse at night this is because at night mucus runs down the back of your throat and into your lungs.

This can cause chest congestion that needs to be coughed up but also it can cause irritation and inflammation, making you cough.

When it comes to infection-related coughs, most of them are caused by the infection itself.

However, in some cases, the persistent cough may be a symptom of pre-existing asthma or a secondary infection that took hold while your immune system was distracted.

It is for this reason that Chest Consultant Physician at Aga Khan Hospital, Dr Juma Bwika advises that one has to consult a doctor first before treating a post-viral cough.

According to Bwika, one might have other lingering issues like asthma therefore it is important to seek medical attention first before taking any medication.

For him, post-viral cough is a diagnosis of exclusion which means that one has no other respiratory issues apart from the cough.

“One has to see a specialist in order to ascertain its just a post-viral cough,” he says.

“This is because this type of cough is a diagnosis of exclusion meaning that the doctor has tested negative every other respiratory infection and certified that it is a post-viral cough,” Dr Bwika says.

“This type of cough does not affect everyone as some are sensitive than others, however it is common,” Dr Bwika says.

“It can result after one had bronchitis which might have left behind inflammation that affects the airwaves hence resulting to the cough or inflammation of the nose, throat or sphinx and usually goes away on the sixth to the eighth week,” he says.

During the first weeks after a cold, one can treat the cough with home remedies or cough medication as prescribed by an expert.

However, one should seek immediate medical attention if he/she is coughing up blood or notices any change in the color, thickness or texture of the fluid or droplets your cough produces.

Increased frequency or strength of the cough or symptoms such as fever, body aches, chills, changes in appetite or difficulty swallowing also require medical attention.

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