Cough caused by a virus

Most coughs are caused by viral infections, and often go soon. This booklet gives some tips on what to do, and to consider symptoms which may indicate a more serious illness. Viral infections commonly affect the throat (larynx), or the main airway (trachea), or the airways to the lungs (bronchi). These infections are sometimes called laryngitis, tracheitis, bronchitis or. Cough is the main symptom.

On this page

  • What are the symptoms of cough caused by a virus?
  • What is the treatment?
  • What symptoms should I look for?
  • References

The cough usually develops over a day or two, and can be quite irritating. Other symptoms can include: fever, headache, aches and pains. Cold symptoms can also occur if the infection affects the nose. Symptoms usually peak after 2-3 days, and then gradually clear. However, the cough may persist for up to four weeks after the infection is gone. This is due to inflammation in the airways, caused by infection, can take a while to clear.

There is no "quick fix" for cough due to a viral infection. You have to be patient until the cough goes. A primary goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms while their immune system clears the infection. The most useful treatments are:

  • Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin to reduce fever (high temperature), and to ease any aches and headaches. (Children under 16 should not take aspirin.)
  • Have plenty to drink if you have fever, to avoid mild dehydration.
  • If you smoke, you should try to stop forever. Coughing and serious lung diseases are more common in smokers.

What about cold remedies and cough?

You can buy many 'cold remedies and cough' another in pharmacies. There is little evidence of any impact on infection, but may be useful for certain symptoms. For example, a decongestant nasal spray can help clear a stuffy nose.

But remember, cold and cough remedies often contain several ingredients. Some can cause drowsiness. This can accommodate bedtime if you have trouble sleeping with a cough. However, do not drive if you feel sleepy. Some contain paracetamol, so be careful not to take more than the maximum safe dose of paracetamol if you are already taking paracetamol tablets.

In March 2009, a major statement was issued by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which says:

"The new recommendation is that parents and caregivers should stop using over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines in children under 6 years. No evidence that they work and can cause side effects such as allergic reactions , effects on sleep or hallucinations.

For 6-12 years these drugs continue to be available, but will only be sold in pharmacies, with clearer advice on the packaging and pharmaceuticals. This is because the risk of side effects is reduced in older children as they weigh more, get fewer colds and can say if the medicine is doing any good. More research is being done by industry on how well these drugs work in children aged 6-12 years. '

Note: paracetamol and ibuprofen are not classified as cough and cold and still can give children.

What about antibiotics?

Antibiotics are usually not recommended. Antibiotics do not kill viruses – they only kill bacteria. Antibiotics are not usually relieve cough caused by a virus. They may even worsen symptoms because sometimes cause side effects such as diarrhea, nausea and rashes.

Antibiotics may be prescribed if you have an ongoing (chronic) lung disease. This is to prevent a "secondary" bacterial infection rather than to eliminate a viral infection. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if a complication such as secondary bacterial pneumonia – but this is unlikely to happen if you are healthy.

Cough uncomplicated viral clearer. However, sometimes a "secondary" bacterial infection develops in addition to the viral infection. This can be severe and cause pneumonia. In addition, other causes of cough (eg, asthma) are sometimes confused with a viral infection. Therefore, consult a physician if any of the following cases.

  • If symptoms such as fever, chest pains or headaches worse or severe.
  • If you experience difficulty breathing, such as wheezing or shortness of breath.
  • If you cough up blood. The blood may be bright red, but dark colored sputum may indicate blood or rusty.
  • If you feel sleepy or confused.
  • If you have any symptoms that you are unhappy, or do not understand.
  • If you have a cough that persists for more than 3-4 weeks.