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Viral Cough

viral cough


The main reasons for having cough is viral infections and bacterial infections. Viral infections commonly affect the throat (larynx), or the main airway (trachea), or the airways going into the lungs (bronchi). These infections are sometimes called laryngitis, tracheitis, or bronchitis. Cough is often the main symptom.

What is the presentation of cough caused by a virus?

The cough after a viral infection may develop over a day or so and the other symptoms that develop are: fever, headache, aches and pains. Cold symptoms may occur if the infection also affects the nose. Symptoms typically peak after 2-3 days, and then gradually clear. However, the cough may persist for up to four weeks after the infection has gone. This is because the inflammation in the airways, caused by the infection, can take a while to clear.

How do you treat viral cough?

There is no quick treatment for a cough due to a viral infection. The main aim of treatment is to ease symptoms whilst your immune system clears the infection. The most useful treatments are:

  • Take paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin to reduce fever (high temperature), and to ease any aches, pains and headaches. (Children aged under 16 should not take aspirin.)
  • Have lots to drink if you have a fever, to prevent mild dehydration.
  • If you smoke, you should try to stop for good. A cough and serious lung diseases are more common in smokers.

Should one take cold and cough remedies?

There is little evidence of any impact on the infection by taking these medications, but they may be useful for certain symptoms. For example, a decongestant nose spray may help to clear a blocked nose.

But remember, cold and cough remedies often contain several ingredients. Some may make you drowsy. Some contain paracetamol, so be careful not to take more than the maximum safe dose of paracetamol if you are already taking paracetamol tablets.

Should one take antibiotics?

Antibiotics only kill bacteria and have no effect on viral infection.Antibiotics do not usually ease a cough caused by a virus. They may even make symptoms worse as they sometimes cause side-effects such as diarrhoea, feeling sick, and rashes.Antibiotics may be prescribed if you already have an ongoing (chronic) lung disease, to prevent a 'secondary' bacterial infection rather than to clear a viral infection.

What symptoms are worrisome?

Most viral coughs clear without complications. However, sometimes a 'secondary' infection with bacteria develops in addition to the viral infection. This may become serious and cause pneumonia. Also, other causes of cough (such as asthma) are sometimes confused with a viral infection. So, see a doctor if any of the following occur.

  • If symptoms such as fever, chest pains, or headaches become worse or severe.
  • If you develop breathing difficulties such as wheezing or shortness of breath.
  • If you cough up blood. Blood may be bright red but dark or rusty coloured sputum may indicate blood.
  • If you become drowsy or confused.
  • If you develop any symptoms which you are unhappy about, or do not understand.
  • If you have a cough that persists for longer than 3-4 weeks

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