Prolonged cold and cough: A secondary infection might be the reason

A cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, throat, and sinuses. A cough is a common symptom of a cold as well as many other respiratory conditions.

BySumit Jha

Published Jan 17, 2023 | 8:15 AM Updated Jan 17, 2023 | 8:15 AM

Why I have prolonged Cold and Cough?

Aakriti, 26, working in an IT company in Hyderabad had classic cold and cough symptoms, coupled with a runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and fatigue.

She took off from work, but several days later, there was no let up in her cold and cough symptoms.

This is not the only case where in the region where people are suffering from cold and cough symptoms for much longer than usual, say doctors.

“I have been receiving cases of long cold and cough for the last few months. If your cold symptoms, including a cough, have been present for more than a week, it is possible that the initial viral infection has resolved, but a secondary bacterial infection has developed,” Hyderabad-based general physician Dr Sandeep Koppula told South First.

He added that this can happen when the inflammation and swelling caused by the viral infection create an environment in which bacteria can thrive.

This may cause symptoms such as chest congestion, a productive cough (coughing up phlegm), and a fever.

Dr Monalisa Sahu, consultant for infectious diseases at Yashoda Hospitals in Hyderabad, said long cold and cough continue because of a hyper-reactive airway, and lower respiratory tract symptoms which remain in our body.

“It is also due to the pre-exposure of the patient with other individuals who are already infected. The individuals who are getting infected might again be reinfected with the virus, as the antibodies which are formed will not protect,” Dr Sahu told South First.

Also read: Cough syrups — when, and when not to, have them

Cold and cough

A cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, throat, and sinuses. Symptoms of a cold include a runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, and sneezing.

“A cold is caused by a viral infection, typically a rhinovirus, that infects the upper respiratory system. The virus attaches to cells in the nose and throat and replicates, causing inflammation and swelling. This leads to the symptoms of a cold, such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, and cough,” said Dr Koppula

A cough is a common symptom of a cold as well as many other respiratory conditions.

“Coughing is a natural response to irritation or inflammation in the airways. It helps to clear mucus and other debris from the lungs and airways, which can be produced as a result of the viral infection,” he said.

“A cough may also be a symptom of post-nasal drip, which occurs when mucus drains from the sinuses into the throat, causing irritation and the urge to cough,” Dr Koppula added.

Also read: More kids falling sick, missing school: Know when to consult doctor

See a doctor

It is important to note that there are many other causes of cough other than cold — such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and even certain medications.

If a person has a persistent cough, or if the symptoms are severe or last longer than usual, it is important to see a doctor for an evaluation to determine the cause of the cough and to receive appropriate treatment.

“These viral infections sometimes can lead to bacteria or fungal infection. Few individuals who have underlying comorbidities, older age people, children, and people having previous diseases of tuberculosis these people are exposed to get a secondary infection,” Dr Sahu said.

If a person has underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it is also important to have your symptoms evaluated by a doctor, as these conditions can make a simple cold more severe and prolonged.

Dr Sahu added that for this extended cold and cough, the patient should visit doctors to rule out secondary bacterial or fungal infection. “If that is present they should be treated accordingly,” she said.

Symptoms to watch for

A person infected with bacteria or fungus will be other symptoms.

“He will have symptoms like fever, producing rusty or thick sputum — it will require further testing of respiratory samples and taking blood tests, to identify bacterial or fungal infection,” Dr Sahu said.

As treatment, Dr Sahu said a patient may take cough syrups with mucolytics and antiallergic components.

“Also, home remedies such steam inhalations, avoiding exposure to cold environments and allergens are recommended,” she said.

It is generally not necessary to see a doctor for a common cold, as it is a self-limiting illness that will typically resolve on its own within a week or two. However, there are certain circumstances in which it is important to seek medical attention for a cold and cough:

  • If your symptoms are severe or last longer than two weeks
  • If you have a fever of 101°F (38°C) or higher
  • If you have difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • If you have a chronic medical condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and your symptoms are worsening
  • If you have a weakened immune system due to a medical condition or medication
  • If you have a persistent productive cough with green or yellow phlegm
  • If you have symptoms of a secondary infection such as sinus pain, earache or swollen glands
  • If you are experiencing persistent fatigue or weakness
  • If you are losing weight or losing your appetite

It is also important to seek medical attention if a person develop any new symptoms or if symptoms worsen. A doctor may be able to recommend treatments to help you feel better and recover more quickly.