Chronic cough can be a cumbersome condition to deal with for most. Oftentimes, the persistence of a cough is deemed mysterious , with patients reportedly struggling with the condition for up to 10 years. As of 2020, we have witnessed a rise in chronic cough as a consequence of COVID-19. A study  has reported that up to 2.5% of patients struggled with a chronic cough a year after their COVID-19 diagnosis. We imagine the numbers in Singapore is understated. As with the typical chronic cough, it would be unexaggerated to assume, many have accepted this as their new norm. In this article, we aim to take a deep dive into the potential reasons for chronic coughing after COVID-19 and what remedies are available to overcome this condition.
A cough is considered chronic when it is persistent for over 8 weeks for adults and over 4 weeks for children. In rare cases, patients have claimed to have unresolved coughing for years. In fact, the most inquired query online in Singapore is “chronic coughing for 10 years”. Unfortunately, many patients become accustomed to coughing and accept it as their new norm after a certain period of time.
Persistent coughing after COVID-19 is also known as a symptom of “long covid” . It can be understood as an ongoing health problem one faces after the infection of COVID-19. Long-COVID is not a condition on its own, but rather an aftermath of COVID-19. Symptoms of long-covid range from dry cough, chesty cough, fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations, sensory changes (test and smell), and even mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
The prevalence of chronic cough after COVID-19 is indicative of acute respiratory distress. In other words, your respiratory system is affected significantly, leading to its inability to recover fully.
There are a few reasons why you might have an unresolved cough after COVID-19. The fundamental cause would be inflammation and your body’s management mechanism in dealing with said inflammation.
For some time, the medical community was dumbfounded about why COVID-19 triggered such an intense inflammatory response. However, recently it has been revealed  that the blood cells, monocytes,  and macrophages  die off in our body in an attempt to fight a COVID-19 infection, subsequently causing the persistence of inflammation as a response.
Having established that chronic coughs are fundamentally a result of inflammation, let’s look into the mechanism of how this occurs.
Given that COVID-19 is fundamentally a respiratory disease, it is likely that your lungs are significantly inflamed. This causes a pneumonia-like response where your lungs are filled with liquid and are swollen. Cough is the body’s response to overcome this buildup. Even if there is no mucus buildup in your lungs, your coughs may manifest as a “dry cough”. This could signify that your lung cells are at least swollen.
Your initial COVID-19 condition has likely undergone a progression march leading to the occurrence of interstitial lung disease (ILD). Also known as diffuse parenchymal lung disease (DPLD), this condition occurs when excess fibrous or scar tissues form in the lungs as a result of inflammation. This subsequently impairs the ability of effective gaseous exchange (taking in oxygen and dispelling carbon dioxide).
Likely, your cough has not got anything to do with your lungs or your nasal passage. Instead, an inflammation of the nervous system has occurred eliciting cough symptoms. This is not unheard of, and is in fact, almost identical to conditions such as a damaged laryngopharyngeal nerve .
When the upper airway which is made up of nasal passages and sinuses is inflamed, liquid builds up in the area as a response. This fluid is also known as mucus. The mucus subsequently drips into the throat, inflicting a cough, a response as means of dealing with the irritations.
First things first, you need to identify the exact cause of your chronic cough so treatment can be administered. This would mean seeking medical intervention by visiting a respiratory specialist so the necessary treatment can be issued. Depending on the cause of your chronic cough, treatment will vary.
In the meantime, it is important that you do not exacerbate your condition. There are a few management steps you can take to control your chronic cough condition, however, it is important to remember this does not cure you of your condition. For instance, if a secondary bacterial infection has occurred, you may need a cycle of antibiotics. Determining the cause of your chronic cough is pertinent and non-negotiable.
Chronic cough is not a condition you have to live with for the rest of your life. If you are feeling discouraged because there seems to be no end to your condition, it is about time you seek a specialist so that a thorough investigation can be conducted. The sooner treatment is sought, the better the chances of a speedy recovery. If you are reading this article because your chronic cough has been driving you up the wall, contact us now as a better quality of life awaits you.
No. Your chronic cough will not contain any COVID-19 viruses that pose a threat to others. However, if a secondary infection has occurred, your bacterial infection could be contagious.
If you are coughing up specks of blood with phlegm, you likely have an irritated throat or airway. However, coughing blood (hemoptysis)  could also be indicative of serious issues such as bronchitis, lung cancer, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. You must seek the service of your healthcare provider promptly if there is blood in your cough (anywhere from a teaspoon of blood).
Coughing blood after COVID-19 has been reported previously  in cases of COVID-19 and may be indicative of secondary bacterial infection or viral pneumonia. Both require treatment and should not be delayed.