My son has been coughing for several weeks, and the cough will probably persist for another 2 or 3 weeks. Coughs last a long time. Patients think a cough will go away in less than a week but in reality they are likely to last several weeks.
Coughs are a pain for the patient and an annoyance for the people around them. You never really know if the cougher in the row behind you has asthma, a post infectious cough or is actively spewing TB or influenza all over the airplane. I learned from Clinton the importance of not inhaling, especially on airplanes.
I tend to leave most symptoms alone if the they are not life threatening or otherwise unbearable for the patient. Codeine is the only really good cough suppressant and none of the over the counter cough medications are effective. I assume that coughing with infection, like diarrhea, is beneficial. Key to treating all infections is to physically remove it. Undrained pus doesn’t heal, and a good cough is the most efficient way I know to remove potential pathogens from the lungs.
If there are benefits to suppressing the cough associated with acute respiratory infections I can’t find any and we have all seen people who, because of inability to cough secondary to rib fractures, develop severe pneumonia. As a resident I had an elderly male die of just such a series of unfortunate events.
I suffer from a mild form the the naturalistic fallacy. I tend to let normal physiologic processes run their course unimpeded as long as they pose no harm to the patient. So I do not treat infectious coughs, in part because medications are not effective, in part there is no benefit and in part because the medications that are effective, and those that are not, have side effects. (more…)