Respiratory infections leading to lingering coughs are on the rise across North America. While coughs often accompany seasonal colds and flus, health experts say many current cases are proving difficult to diagnose and treat.
Surge in Cough Reports
Doctors and health agencies across the United States and Canada are reporting an uptick in cases of prolonged coughs over the past month.
“We are seeing more patients coming in complaining of coughs that just won’t quit,” said Dr. Anne Liu, a pulmonologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
According to Liu, most coughs resolve within three weeks, but many patients are reporting cough symptoms lasting over a month.
“These patients test negative for flu, COVID-19, and other common respiratory illnesses. We believe many of these lingering coughs are being caused byMultiple health experts say the rise in cough cases points to high levels of circulating respiratory viruses this season.
“There are still lots of viruses circulating that cause upper respiratory tract infections,” said Dr. Mallika Marshall, a Boston physician. This includes rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, parainfluenza, metapneumovirus, bocavirus and more.”
Doctors have proposed several theories as to what’s behind the influx of prolonged coughs:
- Post-viral cough syndrome – Lingering coughs after other respiratory symptoms resolve
- Coinfections – Catching multiple viruses at once leading to prolonged symptoms
- New virus mutations – Changes in viruses like flu leading to atypical symptoms
- Irritant exposure – Tobacco smoke, air pollution or chemicals triggering coughs
“We’re seeing patients test positive for multiple viruses at once this season,” Liu said. “Evidence suggests coinfecting viruses can have a synergistic effect and cause more severe illness.”
Cases by Location
|New York, USA
In addition to persistence, doctors note coughs seem more “violent” this season. Patients cite coughing fits leading to vomiting, voice loss, dizziness and even cracked ribs in some cases.
“I’ve been coughing so violently, I injured my intercostal muscles and my ribs ache,” said New York patient Wyatt Chen. “The force leaves me dizzy and nauseous. I just want it to stop.”
For kids, coughs are disrupting sleep and school attendance.
“The cough has lasted over three weeks and my daughter has missed a lot of school,” said Boston parent Michelle Jones. “It’s tough to see her suffer and not know how to help.”
With most cases testing negative for common viruses, treatment options are limited. However, doctors suggest several supportive therapies:
- Cough suppressants/expectorants
- Inhaled medications (albuterol, steroids)
- Throat lozenges
- Resting voice
- Using a humidifier
- Staying well hydrated
“We don’t yet have a proven way to shorten cough duration,” Liu explained. “So we focus on managing symptoms and allowing time for the cough to run its course.”
Doctors advise seeking emergency care for coughs with:
- Shortness of breath
- Fever over 102°F
- Chest pain
- Blood in mucus
Health experts are uncertain if prolonged cough cases will continue rising or taper off.
“It’s tough to foresee if these lingering coughs represent a seasonal spike or a new norm,” Marshall said. “We need more time and data.”
Researchers hope tracking cases helps identify root causes and guide future treatment approaches. Some early studies examining laryngeal nerve inflammation as a potential cough trigger show promise.
For now, doctors stress prevention is key to protect yourself and others:
- Get updated flu and COVID-19 vaccines
- Wash hands frequently
- Wear a mask in crowded settings
- Avoid contact with sick people
- See a doctor if cough persists over 3 weeks
Stay vigilant for new health alerts as viral respiratory activity remains high nationwide. With cooperation and care, experts hope this tough cough season will soon subside.
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