Elin Ritchie, M.D. is a medical doctor trained in Canada at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. She graduated from medical school in 1992, and from a family practice residency program in 1994. She is a Board Certified member of the American College of Family Practice (ACFP). Dr. Ritchie currently practices integrative medicine in Taos, New Mexico.
If you’re in an office building, school or other crowded place, you probably hear someone coughing right now—it might even be you! Do you wonder what causes lingering coughs? Some people seem to have a lingering, dry cough following a cold or flu that persists for weeks, if not months. But why?
Lingering Cough After Bronchitis
When I started my practice 15 years ago, my patient, John, baffled me. He had a genuine case of bronchitis with a mild fever, yellow phlegm, chest congestion and cough. I treated him with the usual medications and he recovered. However, he continued to have a dry, irritated cough for weeks afterward. I’ve seen this a lot since then and I have a few suggestions for getting better sooner.
First, make sure you drink plenty of water. Water moistens the throat and helps the tissues heal quickly. Do you put a band-aid on a healing sore? Drinking water is like a band-aid on the dry, cracked and healing skin of the throat. Think of a dry cough as scratching a healing sore. It itches because it’s healing, but scratching makes it worse. Anything that helps you cough less will help the healing process. Water is easy and effective in this.
You could also use a humidifier. Similar to water you drink, humidity in the air can reduce the itchy irritation of the throat and reduce the amount of coughing allowing healing to occur quickly.
Lingering Cough After a Cold or Due to Allergies
Do you have allergies? My patient, Mary had a lingering cough every winter (does cold weather weaken your immune system? find out). She would have a simple cold in the fall and would cough until Spring. When she moved from an older house to a newer one, we discovered she had been allergic to the dust and wood smoke from her older house. Her coughing subsided once she removed herself from that allergen-rich environment.
The most effective way to reduce your exposure to allergens is to start with your bedroom. Some people go so far as to replace wall-to-wall carpet with tile floor and area rugs that are easily cleaned. If you live in a damp place, make sure there is no mold or mildew behind the head of the bed or in the wall of the bedroom. If you have pets, keep them in another part of your house away from where you sleep. These efforts reduce your exposure for eight to 10 hours a day, and that makes a big difference!
My Own Experience with a Lingering, Dry Cough
I’ve suffered through terribly dry coughs, too. A few years ago, I was struggling with a dry tickle cough. I would have coughing fits in front of my patients, coughing uncontrollably, turning purple, even gagging at times. Now I carry strong peppermint oil with me. Just a dab of it on my tongue will stop a coughing fit immediately. It’s not very pleasant, but it works.
Get Rid of the Cigarettes!
It goes without saying that if you are still smoking, it’s time to quit! Coughs are aggravated by cigarette smoke. There is no “safe” cigarette that is OK to smoke.
Best Way to Try and Cure that Lingering Cough: A Stronger Immune System
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Flu, cough, and colds best treatment is your own active immune system. Help it with plenty of fluids, nutrition, rest, exercise and hand washing.