You may have been there yourself: a week or two ago you got the flu, but luckily the worst symptoms, including fever and an aching head and joints, are gone. Your nose is still running a bit, but you're feeling fit enough to go back to work. The only thing that's bothering you is the cough. It's a particular problem when you're on the phone or in a discussion or meeting. It's tempting to take medicine to try and relieve the cough, but it might not be the right solution.
All coughs are not equal
The symptoms of a cold or flu change as the infection progresses. The cough often starts out dry, with a thick mucus. Here it can help to take medicine that loosens up the mucus so you can cough it up. Mucus remaining in the lungs prevents the exchange of air in the bronchi and creates the ideal breeding ground for bacteria that can cause bronchitis or pneumonia. As the infection draws to an end, however, your air passages often feel dry, and that irritating cough persists. In this case it can help to take cough tablets, syrup or lozenges to suppress the cough.
Accompanying symptom or illness?
Coughs in the wake of a cold or flu can persist for up to three weeks, although you should feel a slight improvement after two. If the cough goes on for more than four weeks or it appears independently of a cold or flu, you should consider the possibility that it's caused by something else such as a chronic condition of the lungs or bronchi. If you smoke, the cause might also be chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). You should consult a doctor if the symptoms persist.
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