Struggling with a cough even weeks after your infection? Researchers say post-infectious cough is a rather common condition that affects around 11 to 25% of adults after a bout of respiratory illness.

Post-infectious cough or a post-viral cough is a subacute cough that lasts somewhere between three to eight weeks. "The preceding infection triggers an inflammatory cascade, increasing bronchial sensitivity and mucus production while reducing mucus clearance," according to researchers of a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

A cough is classified as post-infectious if the patient had a preceding respiratory infection and there are no other concerning findings in the physical examination, including conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

How to manage a lingering cough?

"Most of the time the cough will resolve on its own without any medication or treatment, but it can last a lot longer than you think," said a study author and family physician Dr. Kevin Liang.

The researchers pointed out that studies have demonstrated a lack of clear evidence supporting the effectiveness of inhaled corticosteroids, bronchodilators, and oral medications in treating post-infectious cough.

Most studies showed that the cough tends to get better on its own without any medication. Apart from the fact that these medications can have side effects and cost money, using inhalers also releases gases that contribute to climate change, the researchers said.

When to get it checked?

Any cough that lasts longer than eight weeks is considered to be chronic and needs further assessment to rule out conditions such as asthma or COPD. It is also concerning when there are signs such as hemoptysis (coughing up of blood), systemic symptoms (such as fever, chills, and body aches), swallowing difficulty, shortness of breath, or hoarseness. In such cases, additional investigation is necessary, typically involving a chest radiograph. Individuals with recurrent pneumonia or a prolonged history of smoking need to seek medical attention if they experience a persistent cough.

"Reassuring patients that postinfectious cough is time limited and self-resolving can reduce unnecessary prescriptions, including of antibiotics. Clinicians should advise patients to arrange a follow-up appointment for further work-up if their cough has not resolved within 8 weeks or if new symptoms appear," the researchers wrote.