Even long after an infection has disappeared, a nagging cough can make it difficult to feel like your healthy self again.
According to Matthew Rennels, DO, ProMedica Physicians, this type of cough is called a “post-infectious cough” and it can last for 3-8 weeks after the initial viral or bacterial infection.
“Patients think something is still wrong with them, but they just have this cough that’s been hanging out since they’ve had the initial insult or infection,” explains Dr. Rennels.
It’s your body’s natural inflammatory process that keeps you coughing. “Something interrupts the lining of your respiratory system after you’ve gotten that viral or bacterial illness,” Dr. Rennels says. “The inflammation causes a response in your body that creates mucus or a little bit of discharge that usually tickles the back of your throat in the airway, causing continued inflammation.”
The most severe form of post-infectious cough is pertussis, or whooping cough, which causes bouts of coughing that end with a “whooping” sound as air is inhaled. The coughing can become so severe that you feel nauseated or vomit.
Dr. Rennels recommends a visit to the doctor after three weeks of a persistent cough to ensure that the cough isn’t a symptom of a condition such as GERD, pneumonia or asthma. “If that’s not the case, usually your doctor will try a first generation antihistamine and some type of decongestant to take away the inflammation,” says Dr. Rennels. “If it’s more respiratory, there are some prescription medications and inhalers your doctor may give you to settle the inflammation that’s going on in your airway to help alleviate the cough.”
Cough suppressants and decongestants may also be part of the treatment plan as well as breathing treatments, which can help you breathe better if you’re having more respiratory issues from the cough. Again, warns Dr. Rennels, “Sometimes an infection can bring out the diagnosis of asthma, so you want to make sure with your doctor that that’s not an underlying issue.”