Cough is a socially uncomfortable symptom that can persist for weeks or months after the COVID infection has cleared.
About 2.5 percent of people are still coughing a year after being infected with COVID, according to a study on the prevalence of the disease.
A recurring cough can undermine your ability to work, leave you with medical bills, and cause you to withdraw from social situations because you don’t want others to fear that you’re spreading the virus.
What causes COVID cough?
It is not surprising that COVID causes a cough, because the virus affects the respiratory tract, from the nostrils to our lungs.
Cough is one of ways the body gets rid of unwanted irritants such as viruses, dust and mucus. When something “foreign” is detected in the respiratory tract, a reflex is activated to cause a cough, which should eliminate the irritant.
While this is an effective protection mechanism, it is also how the virus spreads. This is one of the reasons why he has traveled so effectively and quickly around the world.
Why does the cough persist after the infectious period of COVID?
Inflammation is a defensive process that our immune system uses to fight COVID. The inflamed tissues swell and produce fluid. This can go on for a long time, even after the virus has disappeared.
Cough can persist for any of the four main reasonsall of which involve inflammation:
- If the upper airways (the nasal passages and sinuses) remain inflamed, the fluid produced drips down the back of the throat and causes “postnasal drip.” This makes you feel the need to “clear your throat,” swallow, and/or cough.
- If the lungs and lower airways are affected, coughing is the body’s way of trying to get rid of the fluid and swelling it detects there. Sometimes there is not much fluid (so the cough is “dry”), but the inflammation of the lung tissue still causes a cough.
- Neural pathways may be where inflammation lurks. This means that the nervous system is involvedeither centrally (in the brain and/or peripheral, nerves), and the cough does not come primarily from the respiratory tissues themselves.
- A less common but more serious cause may be scarring of lung tissue from inflammationa condition called “interstitial lung disease”. This needs to be diagnosed and managed by respiratory specialists.
Interestingly, people can experience a variety of post-COVID symptoms, including cough, regardless of whether they were sick enough to be hospitalized.
When should you go for a post-COVID cough check-up?
We must be careful not to label the cough as a post-COVID cough and overlook other serious causes of chronic cough.
One thing to watch out for is a secondary bacterial infection, in addition to COVID. Signs of a secondary infection include:
- And change in the type of cough (different sounds, more frequent).
- Change in sputum/phlegm (increased volume, presence of blood).
- Development of new symptoms such as fever, chest pain, palpitations, or worsening breathlessness.
Other potentially serious illnesses can cause chronic cough, such as heart failure and lung cancerso if there is any doubt about the cause of the cough, it is advisable to go for a check-up.
What helps the cough left by COVID?
If there cough is mainly due to postnasal drip, will respond to measures to reduce it such as lozenge sucking, saline rinses, nasal sprays, and sleeping in an upright position.
Some people can develop cough hypersensitivity, where the cough reflex threshold has been lowered, so much less is needed to trigger it. It is a common response to colds and it can take a while for the body to “reset” to a less sensitive state.
Yes one dry or tickly throat triggers the cough reflexSolutions include sipping water slowly, eating or drinking honey, and breathing slowly through your nose.
As you breathe slowly through your nose, the air that hits the back of your throat is warmed and moistened as it first passes through your nasal cavities. Therefore, the cough reflex is less likely to be triggered, and over time the hypersensitivity should settle.
If the cause stems from a inflammation in the lungscontrolled breathing exercises and steam inhalation (in a hot shower or through a vaporizer) can help.
Thick mucus can also be made more watery by inhaling saline through a device called a nebulizer that turns the liquid into a vapor and delivers it directly to the mucus built up in the lungs. This makes it easier to clear your cough.
Are there other options to cure post-COVID cough?
Budesonide (a steroid inhaler), when given soon after a COVID diagnosis, has been shown to reduce the likelihood of needing urgent medical care, as well as improve recovery time.
Unfortunately, there are no good trials on the use of budesonide inhalers for post-COVID cough.
Anecdotally, though, it has been helpful for some patients who have a post-COVID cough, when nothing else helps.
Los trials of steroid tablets to treat post-COVID cough are still underway and will not be recommended unless they are shown to result in significant improvement.
Antibiotics won’t help post-COVID cough
Worryingly, some countries have guidelines suggesting the use of antibiotics to treat COVID, showing how prevalent this misunderstanding is.
unless there is one secondary bacterial infectionantibiotics are not appropriate and may contribute to development of resistance to antibiotics.
Post-COVID cough can last for weeks, be debilitating, and have a variety of causes. Most ways to manage it are simple, inexpensive, and can be done without the need for medical intervention.
However, if you’re in any doubt about the cause or progression of your cough, it’s worth visiting your GP to have it checked out.
*To read the note from the original source, click here.
*Written by Natasha Yates, profesora General Medicine Assistant at Bond University.
*The Conversation is an independent, non-profit source for news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.