What’s Really Causing That Lingering Cough?

It may be spring — winter illnesses having fled — but some people are continuing to fight a nasty cough. Lingering congestion or coughs aren’t usually much cause for concern, but some cases do require medical attention. We have a breakdown of what could be going on if you’re over your cold or flu but that cough just won’t quit.

Quick Read:
It might seem like your cold or flu will never end, but it probably did. That lingering cough is probably not contagious. So what’s the deal? Some people experience lingering inflammation; some at-risk patients develop secondary infections like pneumonia; and those with asthma, post-nasal drip and GERD can develop chronic coughs that may mimic long-lasting infections.

Lingering Coughs Can Require Treatment

Post-Infection Inflammation

The body’s immune response takes time to clear up. The lungs have just been the site of a battlezone, and they’re going to be inflamed for a while — so sometimes, patience is the answer. It can take time for all of those immune cells to give up the fight, and even then, some stick around to catch potential stragglers.

That lingering inflammation can last far longer than most of us would expect. We may only be contagious for 5-7 days after flu or cold symptoms begin, but according to University Health News, we might  spend about 18 days coughing. The cough itself, if this is the cause, shouldn’t be too concerning as long as there is no fever with it.

Secondary Infection

Much more concerning is a lingering cough accompanied by a fever. That could be a sign of a secondary infection, which can happen when the cold or flu virus lowers our defenses and other viruses or bacteria take advantage of that state. Moreover, people with serious health issues or weakened immune systems are more likely to experience serious secondary infections, such as pneumonia.

Pneumonia can be deadly, so get to a doctor if you have a cough that won’t let up and you’re running a fever. You may need antibiotics or steroids or other treatment to beat the infection. This isn’t one to play around with.

Asthma and Other Conditions

Viruses can trigger complications with asthma, and to make matters worse, people who suffer from the condition may be at higher risk for those more serious secondary infections. People with asthma and other problems affecting the lungs or throat may also have post-infection inflammation and may have it for longer periods or more severely.

Conditions like post-nasal drip and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can irritate the throat, leading to a chronic cough that can exacerbate or even mimic the lung irritation that comes with a cold or flu infection. Both asthma and GERD sufferers often experience chronic coughs, which can mimic infections bu which should probably be checked out rather than dismissed out of hand.

In most cases, a lingering cough is nothing to worry about unless you have one that lasts longer than a few weeks, even without a fever. If you have one with a fever? Please go see a doctor. If this is a common problem for you, talk to your doctor to rule out other conditions.

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