Cough is one of the most common symptoms of respiratory infections, like the common cold, flu, or COVID. Most types of coughs usually clear up within three weeks and do not require any treatment. However, if they persist for longer, they could signal trouble.
Dr Srivatsa Lokeshwaran, Lead Consultant and Head of Department-Interventional Pulmonology and Lung Transplant, Aster Whitefield Hospital, Bengaluru, defines cough as a protective reflex by the body that helps throw out irritants in the lungs. It usually occurs when the nerves are irritated by infections, allergies, cold air, tumours, smoke, dust particles, or stomach acid, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
What Does A Nagging Cough Feel Like And What Causes It?
Dr Hitesh Billa, Pulmonologist, Apollo Clinic, Manikonda, said, “A nagging cough is characterised by persistent, lasting coughing that extends beyond three weeks, often signalling underlying health issues.”
According to him, it can stem from various causes, often indicating irritation or inflammation in the respiratory tract.
Common culprits include viral infections like the common cold or flu, where the body tries to expel mucus and irritants, allergies to dust, pollen, and certain foods.
Additionally, chronic conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and environmental factors like smoke and air pollution can irritate the throat and lead to a persistent cough.
Lingering Coughs Can Be A Result Of Secondary Infection
Speaking with the OnlyMyHealth team, Dr Manu Choudhary, Consultant, Paediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist, Rainbow Children’s Hospital, Marathahalli, Bengaluru, noted that in the last few months, there has been a rise in the number of viral infections. These include influenza, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and adenovirus.
“We have been seeing intercurrent viral infections causing prolonged coughs,” he said, referring to instances where patients reported lingering coughs that lasted for more than 7–10 days and progressively worsened over time.
“With the varying extreme weather, the allergies are also exacerbated, causing the post-viral coughs to last longer. In some cases, the viral infection is followed by a secondary infection with bacteria, leading to prolonged cough along with difficulty breathing, wheezing, frequent nighttime awakenings, and green or yellow sputum with cough.”
A secondary infection usually occurs during or after treatment for another infection, according to MedlinePlus. Two examples include:
- A vaginal yeast infection after taking antibiotics to treat an infection caused by bacteria
- Pneumonia caused by bacteria or fungi after having an upper respiratory infection (like a cold) that was caused by a virus
According to Dr Choudhary, a secondary infection can be a serious issue in newborns and young infants as it affects their lungs and causes a drop in oxygen levels.
Home Remedies To Treat Nagging Cough
Some of the home remedies that can offer relief from a nagging cough include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids to keep the throat moist and loosen mucus
- Warm tea with honey
- Steam inhalation, using a humidifier, or taking a hot shower
- Gargling with salt water
- Menthol or eucalyptus lozenges
- Elevating the head while sleeping can minimise postnasal drip, reducing nighttime coughing
- Avoid irritants like smoke, strong odours, and allergens
- Avoid eating foods that are cold, oily, and spicy
A cough is usually harmless. However, if it lasts longer than three weeks, consulting a doctor or a healthcare professional is recommended. Various factors and underlying conditions can cause lingering coughs, and therefore, understanding the exact cause is crucial to determining an effective treatment plan.