Managing a persistent cough after Covid-19 recovery

A person's nerves in the throat may also be damaged after a Covid-19 infection, resulting in a neuropathic cough. PHOTO: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - A persistent cough is one of the common complaints among people who have recovered from Covid-19.

Operations executive Charmaine Yeo, 29, for instance, has had a nagging cough since she recovered from Covid-19 in May. "I have cough drops with me all the time now because I never know when I might have bouts of coughing," she says.

According to a study led by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases that started in January 2020, one in 10 recovered Covid-19 patients had persistent symptoms, such as a lingering cough and shortness of breath, six months after infection.

Another study published in a journal titled Lung in June 2021 showed that about 2.5 per cent of 1,950 people in Madrid, Spain, are still coughing a year after being infected with Covid-19.

So what can be done to manage a persistent cough?

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist at Rophi Clinic, says Covid-19 patients would tell him that they have to cough it out to clear phlegm or ease the persistent itch in their throats.

However, it is better to try to suppress the cough, he says. "If you cough non-stop, you will tear the insides of the throat and cause more coughing. Instead, try to suppress some of your cough. This will help your cough get better."

He adds that recovered Covid-19 patients may have a persistent cough due to sinusitis, gastroesophageal reflux, airway issues such as asthma and bronchitis, as well as an irritation of a nerve in the throat.

For coughs caused by sinusitis, Dr Leong advises people to drink more water, use a sinus rinse and inhale steam. Those with gastroesophageal reflux should avoid drinking coffee and eating oily, fatty and spicy food, he says.

Recovered Covid-19 patients who have pre-existing conditions such as bronchitis and asthma are also predisposed to a prolonged cough.

Dr Leong says: "With bronchitis, the airways can get choked up with secretion or one may have asthmatic tendencies which can trigger a chronic cough."

Post-viral bronchial hyper-reactivity syndrome can also occur after Covid-19 recovery, he notes.

"This means that the airways become very sensitive after a Covid-19 infection causing it to hyper react to triggers such as smoke, cold air and cold drinks, which may result in a prolonged cough," he says.

In such cases, he advises people to drink more warm water.

A person's nerves in the throat may also be damaged after a Covid-19 infection, resulting in a neuropathic cough, he says.

"Being in cold temperatures and consuming spicy or acidic food can also trigger such a cough," he adds.

He suggests soothing the throat by drinking honey with warm water.

Ultimately, Dr Leong advises people to see a doctor to find out the cause of the cough and to get targeted treatment. A chest X-ray or scan may be carried out if necessary and medication may also be prescribed.

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