Blog | Monday, February 11, 2013

Coughs last longer than patients think

It's winter and that means lots of viral colds, influenza and bronchitis. A new small study was published in the Annals of Family Medicine that addresses what we doctors already know ... the cough following an illness often lasts for weeks after the infection has cleared.

The researchers surveyed almost 500 patients by phone. They found that people expected their cough to clear up in about 7-9 days if they had a 100.5 degree fever and a cough with mucous. The researchers then reviewed 17 published studies that showed the average cough actually took 18 days to subside. That is almost three weeks!

Most coughs are caused by viruses, even though over 50% of patients with acute cough are prescribed antibiotics. We are uncovering more and more about the way antibiotics affect normal gut flora and also create resistant organisms so overuse is a real public health hazard. As patients understand that coughs can go on and on and do not signal the need for more antibiotics, the better off we will be.

What can you do if you have a lingering cough after a viral infection? Taking a cough suppressant, especially at night so you can get good sleep is critical. Cough lozenges can also help through-out the day. If there is a wheezing, asthma component, a bronchodilator inhaler will help with the cough. Natural cough suppressants can also help. Theobromine, a substance found in chocolate, was found to suppress cough so hot cocoa may help.

Here is another concoction that has been found to suppress cough:
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
2 T. honey (or to taste)
2 T. water
1 T. apple cider vinegar

Take 3 tsp. when needed

This post originally appeared at Everything Health. Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.