Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can't stop coughing?

Cough, cough, cough...argh! Is there any point in seeing your doctor when all you have is a left-over cough after an upper respiratory infection? YES! While it is rare that you will need antibiotics, there are other medications that your doctor may recommend to help you quiet that cough.

Often, after a viral infection, we are left with a cough. Untreated, that cough might last up to six weeks. Frequently, it is worse at night and may keep you (or your spouse) from sleeping- which adds fatigue and grumpiness to the picture. At a minimum, your doctor may choose to prescribe a narcotic cough syrup (assuming the OTC dextromethorphan-containing products are not working) so that you and your loved ones can get some rest.

Additionally, it is very common to develop a transient asthma-type of reaction in your lungs after a cold. We call this reactive airways, and the extra mucus production as well as spasm can lead to some wheezing and/or cough. The good news is that this is not a permanent change, AND we can use a couple different types of inhalers to improve your cough and shortness of breath.

Traditional home remedies such as cool mist humidifiers and topical menthol products can also provide good symptomatic relief.

If you have a cold, then seem to recover, and then get broad-sided with an intense cough and fever a week later, you may indeed need an antibiotic because you have become secondarily infected. In this case, an antibiotic may be recommended, but the mainstay of treatment will still include rest, fluids, and over the counter cough suppressants such as dextromethorphan, which is designated "DM" in most combination cold products.

BOTTOM LINE: Got a tickling cough? Use OTC meds and hydration. Stuck with a nagging, lingering cough? Go see your doctor for some extra help, but don't expect antibiotics.

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