OVER the winter months, it may seem as though everyone around you has had a cough.
Now experts have revealed the real reason behind the long-lasting coughs many people have been experiencing.
The annoying ailment is said to be down to people picking up one infection after the other.
Medics at Imperial College London found that rates of lower and upper respiratory tract infections are well above the average usually seen so far in winter.
This is echoed in weekly data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which has found high rates of flu and other respiratory viruses.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs added that infections have been doing the rounds for longer than usual.
Prof Hawthorne highlighted that most of the public have been socially isolating for two winters which appears to have reduced their resistance to infections.
“This seems to make it more likely they will pick up infections than in previous years.
“So, in some cases, it may be a matter of picking up one infection after another. They are all different and getting over one type of infection does not give immunity against another one.
“We’d encourage patients to do what they can to keep themselves well this winter, including practising good public hygiene such as regular handwashing, or using hand gels if that isn’t possible, and throwing tissues away once they’ve been used.”
The cost of living crisis, and many people not being able to afford to heat their homes will also be contributing to the rise in illness, the expert added.
“It goes without saying that if patients are struggling to eat healthily or heat their homes or are living in damp conditions, then this will have an impact on their health – and the added stress of struggling financially will undoubtedly take its toll on people’s mental health,” she said.
Another expert added that the increase in coughs could also be down to weather changes and the nature of specific viruses.
“We haven’t seen so much Covid, but it is still there. And we’ve also had infections such as Strep A, with lots of people coming to us who were coughing but also had sore throats – mainly children, but a lot of adults as well,” Asthma and Lung UK clinical lead Dr Andrew Whittamore, who is also a GP said.
The 6 ways to ease your cough
If you’ve been struggling with a cough, it might seem as though it’s never ending.
Professor Hawthorne said that in most cases, those suffering with a cough or a common cold will be able to recover without the need for medical attention.
The NHS said there are 6 tips you can try to ease a cough:
- take regular paracetamol for any temperature, sore throat or earache
- stay warm
- get plenty of rest
- drink lots of fluids
- try hot lemon and honey
- a herbal medicine called pelargonium (suitable for people aged 12 or over)
“We’d encourage patients to understand that giving antibiotics for viral infections will not help, as they only help with bacterial infections,” Prof Hawthorne said.
“Most upper respiratory tract infections are due to viruses.
“Pharmacists will also be able to provide advice on appropriate over-the-counter medicines that may help with symptoms, but do not ‘cure’ the infection,” Prof Hawthorne added.
She added that if a cough is particularly persistent, or a patient is bringing up discoloured phlegm, has severely worsened with shortness of breath, or if a patient is experiencing chest pain or losing weight for no reason, they should seek a medical opinion.
“Covid affects people in lots of different ways – some can get scarring of their lungs and fibrosis, which can cause a long-term cough.
“This is why we say anybody who’s still coughing four weeks after having Covid to really get a chest X-ray and get checked out,” he added.
He said anyone who has had a cough for around three to four weeks or longer should seek help to also rule out other illnesses.
“These checks allow us to pick up lung cancers, long Covid and so on,” he said.
It’s certainly worth touching base with a GP for an ongoing cough because it might well be you need a chest X-ray, he said.
“In many cases, it’s some reassuring advice, just to say ‘Actually, this is what’s going around, it sounds like you’ve got a virus or another virus on top of it’.
“But sometimes these things need treatment, sometimes they need looking into, and sometimes you pick up people who’ve got perhaps underlying asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), because they get wheezy, they get breathless, they get tight-chested.
“So we can identify people who’ve got these conditions underneath which could be making them more ill,” he added.