I've had a cough for over a month, following a bad cold. Can a doctor do anything for me?
While colds generally last about seven to 10 days, symptoms such as a cough and runny nose can persist.
For a cough that has lasted more than a month following a cold, I would recommend seeing your doctor for an examination and a review of your medical history. Your doctor may be able to suggest some options for relief, might consider investigations and will try to ensure that nothing serious is happening.
Post-viral cough is one of the most common reasons for persistent cough after cold. It occurs due to residual inflammation in the lungs following a cold, which can irritate the respiratory tract. It can also occur due to post-nasal drip due to phlegm build up in the back of the throat from inflammation of nasal passages. This is often felt as an irritating sensation in the back of the throat that can worsen and trigger coughing jags when lying flat. A post-viral cough can last up to eight weeks and often resolves on its own. Because the symptoms can be very bothersome and affect your sleep, your doctor may consider a short course of inhaled steroids to help decrease inflammation or other options such as bronchodilators that can help to open your airways.
On occasion, the common cold can persist and lead to sinusitis or pneumonia which may require antibiotics - so if you have had fever, facial pain or shortness of breath associated with your cough - get checked out.
It is important to note that smoking can decrease your immune system and can prolong the normal course of a cold. If you can't stop, decreasing the amount you smoke during a cold may be helpful with speeding up recovery.
On occasion, a cold can worsen pre-existing conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD or emphysema), or congestive heart failure.
If you suffer from any of these conditions and your cough persists beyond a few weeks, see your doctor to ensure that these conditions are not the cause. In an otherwise healthy individual, a cough will generally resolve on its own with time, but your doctor may be able to offer suggestions for symptom relief.
Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at email@example.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.
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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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