Colds and other respiratory illnesses are never fun. After the sneezing, runny nose, and runny nose are gone, one symptom often remains: coughing. But why does a cough sometimes go away forever?
According to him, the main reason for a prolonged cough is associated with prolonged inflammation. Dr. Albert Rizzo (will open in a new tab), chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. This inflammation can have multiple sources, making it difficult to treat.
These sources may include viral and bacterial infections that cause inflammation of the airways and nose. This inflammation irritates the mucous membranes of the airways and nose and produces mucus, the phlegm and snot associated with colds. Inflammation of the nose leads to postnasal drip, which is mucus that drains down the throat from the nose and is a common cause of coughing. National Institutes of Health (will open in a new tab).
When particles enter the respiratory tract through the nose or mouth, they can activate nerve receptors in the lungs to tell the brain, “This is not what we want here,” Rizzo said. Then the pressure builds in the diaphragm, and the air is pushed out with force, taking dust, food and mucus with it.
In addition to the nasal inflammation, the cough persists after a cold, Rizzo says, because airway inflammation can take several weeks, and that time can be extended if someone has had previous lung infections or smokes.
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When someone is sick, special immune cells called macrophages (will open in a new tab) another neutrophils (will open in a new tab) help fight infections in the respiratory tract. These cells are also inflammatory. Sometimes, after a cold is over, these cells remain in the airways and keep them inflamed, so coughing can continue after infection. Dr. Amy Dickey (will open in a new tab)attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and lecturer in medicine at MGH and Harvard Medical School.
At the same time, the delicate tissues of the respiratory tract can be very sensitive to particles entering through the nose or mouth. This is because there is a complex system of nerves and muscles in the airways, throat and brain that control coughing. “As if you [use a] reflex hammer on the knee, your leg is thrown out. There can be similar types of reflexes in the airways,” Dickey said. In other words, viruses and mucus are the reflex hammer, and coughing is the kicking leg. As soon as the inflammation subsides, this reflex becomes less sensitive, and the cough should disappear.
For a cough that lasts three to four weeks after an illness, there are several home remedies and behaviors that can help shorten the cough time (or at least relieve the symptoms).
If postnasal drip accompanies a cough, nasal saline or nasal steroids can help reduce the inflammation causing the drip, Dickey says. They are often available without a prescription. She added that throat lozenges can also help soothe the larynx and suppress coughs.
According to a 2021 study published in International Journal of Cardiopulmonary Medicine and Rehabilitation (will open in a new tab)Research shows that honey and saline can help relieve coughs. However, more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness and safety of natural products.
While coughing can be painful, it’s important to remember that coughing has an immune function. If irritants and mucus remain in the airways, they can damage the delicate tissues of the airways or lungs, or even make breathing difficult. Dickie recommends exercise encourage deep breathing to clear mucus (will open in a new tab)or take expectorants, which loosen mucus and make it easier to expectorate. This can help eliminate those inflammatory irritants.
While it’s good to be considerate of other people, Dickey said, sometimes it’s important to let out a cough.
Although a persistent cough is most often caused by irritation from inflammation, people should see a doctor if the cough lasts more than three to four weeks. and accompanied by other symptoms (will open in a new tab) like fever, shortness of breath, or green-yellow mucus.
If the cough continues on its own for more than eight weeks, a doctor may take a chest x-ray or measure lung function to check for COPD, lung cancer, emphysema, or other serious conditions, Rizzo said.