Cough After COVID-19: Everything You Need to Know
Whether you have experienced and recovered from COVID-19, or seen a family member or loved one battle the virus, or if you have simply read or listened to the news for the past two years, you know this: COVID-19 and coughing generally go hand in hand.
What has been particularly tricky in the time of a global pandemic is the fact that so many other health conditions, some completely benign and others quite serious, can also cause us to cough.
Those who suffer from seasonal allergies, for example, have found themselves thinking “is the pollen causing my cough, or should I get tested for COVID-19?” A former smoker may fear her frequent cough indicates the presence of lung cancer.
Coughing is indeed a primary sign of COVID-19, though it is not the only one and patients experience different symptoms with the virus. For example, some may have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, while others may not experience any stomach or intestinal issues at all.
We will take a look at what you need to know about coughing and COVID-19, both during and after the virus, as well as other common causes of a dry cough.
What is a Dry Cough Anyway?
For those who do not tend to develop colds or other viruses that trigger coughing, the phrase “dry cough” may not be familiar. Physicians use “dry” and “wet” as designations for coughing in that it helps them to determine what types of illness their patients may be describing.
Certain medical conditions (such as bronchitis) can be associated with a “wet” cough or one that produces mucus. “Wet” indicates the individual may cough up and expel mucus, and it is also known as a productive cough.
A dry cough, on the other hand, does not produce any mucus. It can also be associated with a feeling described as a “tickle” in the back of the throat. That nagging tickle prompts a constant cough or need to clear the throat. A dry cough is also associated with a sore or scratchy throat, and in some cases, it may be painful to swallow.
COVID-19: What We Know About Its Symptoms
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause disease, and COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2. While it is considered a “respiratory disease,” COVID-19 can wreak havoc on more than just our lungs.
COVID-19 spreads through droplets in the air, which are released as we talk, cough, sneeze, or simply breathe. This is why face masks remain one of the most important mitigation strategies when it comes to COVID-19.
Once exposed to the virus, a person can develop symptoms within 2 to 14 days (this is known as the “incubation period”) and can remain contagious for 10 to 20 days.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and are often affected by the patient’s general health. Those with underlying conditions (such as asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis, or pulmonary hypertension) may be prone to more severe cases of COVID-19, often requiring hospitalization.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- A persistent dry cough
- Loss of smell and taste
- Shortness of breath
- Fever and chills
- General achiness
- A sore throat
- A runny nose
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
It is also possible to have the disease with no noticeable symptoms.
In mild cases of COVID-19, treatment may consist of resting at home and taking over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers. In more serious cases where hospitalization is required, patients may be treated with remdesivir (an antiviral medication) or dexamethasone, a corticosteroid.
COVID-19: What to Expect After Recovering
If you have heard of the “covid cough,” it can be describing two things: both the cough that appears as one of the earliest symptoms of the disease, as well as the lingering cough some experience after they have recovered.
“Long haulers”, as they are known, can experience symptoms for months after having COVID-19. In some cases, patients could even develop symptoms later that were not originally present when they contracted the virus.
A dry and nagging cough can stick around for weeks or even months after COVID-19, and in addition to the cough patients may also experience:
- ongoing fatigue
- brain fog
- heart palpitations
- joint and muscle pain
- changes in the menstrual cycle
- altered senses of smell and taste
These physical symptoms often take a toll on mental health as well, and long haulers need the support of friends and family as they continue to live with the effects of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a great resource for information on supporting long-haul COVID-19 patients.
Other Illnesses Associated with Dry Cough
A dry cough can be a short-term and minor issue, a sign of a serious problem, or it can land somewhere in between.
Even during a widespread outbreak of COVID-19, a dry cough can still occur for many other reasons, where people have not been infected by the virus. Therefore, it is important not to panic at the first sign of a tickle in the back of your throat.
Coughing is, after all, a natural and normal reflex and we do it to clear our throats and lungs of irritants. A surprisingly spicy bite of salsa can be enough to trigger a cough, as can standing too close to a roaring fire.
In some cases, a dry cough could represent no underlying medical condition, but it could be caused by a tic. This kind of cough is sometimes called a “habit cough,” and it can also be accompanied by frequent throat clearing.
A persistent dry cough is also a frequent symptom of these illnesses:
Asthma While some forms of asthma trigger a wet cough, there are dry cough variants where patients also experience wheezing and shortness of breath.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) GERD can be a root cause when it comes to dry coughing, as it causes acids from the stomach to work their way back up to the esophagus.
Upper Respiratory Infections These can have symptoms that overlap with COVID-19, including not only a dry cough but also fever, sore throat, runny nose, and achiness. (Lower respiratory infections, on the other hand, typically yield a wet cough).
Lung Cancer When lung cancer is present, patients often experience a dry cough, and sometimes it progresses to a wet cough as mucus or blood is expelled. Other possible signs of lung cancer include chest pain, weight loss, and fatigue.
Many simple things can trigger coughing: someone allergic to dust mites might cough more at night when sleeping on pillows without protective covers. In some cases, medication can even cause a dry cough or tickle in the throat, such as certain blood pressure medications.
Not every episode of dry coughing should be cause for immediate concern; however, when coupled with other serious symptoms or when a cough simply won’t go away, you should speak to your healthcare provider.
Dry Cough: When to Seek Medical Attention
If you can pinpoint the cause of your cough (such as a seasonal allergy) and have no other troubling symptoms, you may not necessarily require medical attention.
However, there are other cases where a dry cough should be reported to your doctor.
Patients are advised to seek medical attention if:
- Persistent dry cough will not go away
- Cough starts to produce yellow or green mucus
- Cough causes the patient to expel blood
- Cough is accompanied by wheezing or shortness of breath
- It becomes difficult to swallow
If the cough is accompanied by fever, weakness, fatigue, and other symptoms, your doctor may test you for COVID-19, influenza, or other illnesses.
Natural Remedies to Sooth a Dry Cough and Sore Throat
For patients with a lingering dry cough after COVID-19, as well as other unpleasant prolonged symptoms, overall quality of life can be affected. The long haulers often struggle to regain energy and strength, are frustrated by the brain fog that makes even simple daily tasks more difficult and grow weary of a nagging cough (as do their family members in the same household).
Fortunately, some of the same tried-and-true remedies we have used for generations to treat cough due to cold will be helpful when recovering from COVID-19.
Steam to the Rescue
Using a humidifier, especially as you sleep, will add much-needed moisture to the air to soothe a dry cough and sore throat.
Popsicles for All Ages
Do we ever really outgrow a popsicle? These icy treats can soothe sore throats and can even be made with natural ingredients at home.
Healing Salt Water
While you may not live anywhere near the ocean, you can still experience the healing powers of salt water at home! Gargling warm salt water is a favorite home remedy to ease the discomfort of dry coughing and sore throats.
No natural ingredient is more popular for sore throats and dry coughs than honey, which is often found in store-bought cough drops. Try adding a teaspoon of honey to a cup of hot tea or even swallowing it on its own if you prefer.