Almost all cases of chronic cough are caused by allergies, asthma or reflux disease.
You probably don’t need reminding that cold and flu season is upon us. If, like me, you’ve already had your first bout of one of these nasty bugs, you may be wondering: When will my symptoms go away? Even as my sore throat and stuffy nose have cleared up, my cough has lingered into a second week. It has disrupted my sleep and kept me away from social events.
Two-plus weeks of coughing is quite common in most cases of viral respiratory infections such as mine, says Matthew Mintz, an internist with George Washington Medical Faculty Associates. The average duration of cough, according to a recent study, is 18 days.
If you think that seems like a long time, you’re not alone. A telephone survey by the same researchers found most people expected a cough to last seven to nine days.
That dissonance between how long people expect cough to last and how long it really does sends a lot of people to the doctor. Cough is the most common patient complaint to primary-care physicians and accounts for more than 30 million doctor’s visits annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many people come seeking antibiotics. But if your cough began, as mine did, with a cold and is dry and accompanied by fatigue and muscle aches, then it is most likely related to that cold virus, and antibiotics won’t help clear it up, says Christian Merlo, a Johns Hopkins pulmonologist.