Wednesday 24 October 2018

Dear Dr Nina: I was in bed with the flu... and still have a lingering cough

Stock Image: Getty Images
Stock Image: Getty Images

Nina Burns

Q. I had the flu back in early December and was in bed for a fortnight — it was a really bad dose. But I still have a lingering cough which gets worse at night. I don’t smoke, and am in good health.

Dr Nina replies: Influenza is a highly contagious virus that attacks the respiratory system and spreads rapidly from person to person. It occurs in all age groups all over the world but infections reach a peak during winter months with the peak flu season in the northern hemisphere running from October through April. We have had a particularly nasty flu season this year and lots of people have been unwell in recent months.

Flu symptoms last for about a week on average, however the tiredness felt with flu can continue for several weeks after the initial infection subsides.

Cough can be a frustrating lingering symptom.  Irritation anywhere from the throat to deep in the lungs will cause someone to cough. Coughs lasting two to three weeks are most often associated with a viral or bacterial respiratory infection. They can also last for some weeks after the initial infection has passed.

It is not always necessary to visit your doctor with a cough. However if you have fever, coloured phlegm, blood, wheeze, shortness of breath, weight loss or night sweats, or the cough lasts longer than a month, a doctor’s visit is essential.

Congestion in the sinus and airways causes dripping into the back of throat, also leading to irritation and coughing. This is often worse lying down. You can buy many treatments over the counter but always talk to your pharmacist. Older antihistamines can be very sedating and so the newer less sedating ones are preferred.

Nasal rinses may remove allergens and pollens from your nasal passages, which may help. Your doctor can prescribe you alternative antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops. Taking several medications together often works best.

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