After recovering from a cold, many people may still struggle with a persistent cough. What causes this and when should you see a doctor1?
Cold symptoms can linger long after our bodies have fought off an illness1. Many people may still struggle with a persistent tickle in the throat after a cold or flu, but this does not necessarily mean that they are still sick1.
Many illnesses can produce a recurrent cough. These range from hay fever and the common cold to bronchitis and pneumonia. These types of coughs should generally last from a few days to a few weeks2. A chronic, persistent cough is generally one that lingers for more than three to eight weeks, sometimes lasting for months or even years2.
One of the most common reason people cannot seem to get rid of a cough, is because of a postnasal drip1. This is when mucus builds up in your nasal cavity and sinuses, which can keep dripping into the back of the throat, creating a tickle effect that makes you want to keep coughing1.
Smoking is another leading cause of persistent coughing, caused by chemical irritation2. Other causes of a recurrent, lingering cough include asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic bronchitis, treatment with ACE inhibitors, which is one type of medication used for high blood pressure2 as well as prolonged exposure to pollution, dust, and irritating chemicals3.
Persistent coughing can cause loss of sleep, sore chest muscles, and in some cases leaking urine, all of which can affect your quality of life and interfere with your daily activities4. The cause of a chronic cough should be diagnosed and treated before the symptoms continue to linger for too long2.
Some people may worry that their persistent cough could be a sign of something more serious such as cancer. While lung cancer, lung diseases and fungal infections are less common causes of a lingering cough, it is still important to see your healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis4.
Treating the underlying cause is usually the best way to reduce the severity and frequency of a persistent cough. However, some treatments which can help relieve the symptoms may include sucking on throat lozenges or pastilles, which contain ingredients that can ease irritation and reduce coughing3. These include honey, menthol, eucalyptus3, marshmallow root dry extract and thyme herb extract5. Other options include the use of over-the-counter cough suppressants and syrups which contain ingredients that can reduce a person’s cough reflex3.
Sleeping with the upper body raised can also help decrease coughing symptoms caused by postnasal drip and GERD3.
While a lingering cough is often not cause for concern, it is important to never ignore it and to see your doctor. This is particularly important if your cough is accompanied by bloody mucus or phlegm, fever, weight loss, night sweats, breathlessness, fatigue, or chest pain2.
DISCLAIMER: This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information speak to your healthcare professional.
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- I am over this cold, so why am I still coughing? (2019) at https://www.healthline.com/health-news/why-am-i-still-coughing (website accessed on 28 March 2021)
- Harvard Medical School. That Nagging Cough (2019) at https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/that-nagging-cough (website accessed on 28 March 2021)
- Medical News Today. What can cause a dry cough? (2020) at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324912#when-to-see-a-doctor (website accessed on 28 March 2021)
- Very Well Health. Possible Causes and Evaluation of a Persistent Cough (2020) at https://www.verywellhealth.com/persistent-cough-causes-evaluation-2249305 (website accessed on 28 March 2021)
- Pholtex Bronchostop® Cough Pastilles professional information, September 2019.