Trends in Phramaceutical Sciences 2016: 2(1)
An overview of post infectious coughs
Department of Internal Medicine, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran.
Trends in Phramaceutical Sciences 2016: 2(1): 11-16.
Coughs lasting more than 3 weeks after airway infections are likely regarded as post-infectious
coughs. A normal chest radiography unfavors possibility of pulmonary infection. These coughs are self-
limited. This study reviews conducted studies in order to identify and dene prevalence, pathogenesis, and
cure of post-infectious constant coughs. The necessary data and guidelines are gained from English articles
in PubMed website. Post-infectious and cough are searched. Post-infectious cough pathogenesis are not
known; nevertheless, inammation, epithelial damages of upper and lower airways, increased mucus se-
cretion, and an increased reactivity of airways can cause these coughs. Despite self-limitedness of these
coughs; dextromethorphan, antihistamines, ipratropium bromide, and decongestant are usually prescribed
for cure of these coughs. Conversely, antibiotics play no signicant role in this regard. These coughs con-
stitutes smaller percentage of chronic coughs and are primarily classied in subacute coughs. Further stud-
ies should cover sub-acute and chronic properties of these coughs as well as their prevalence in different
age groups and their determinants.
Keywords: Airways, Cough, Post-infectious cough.
Cough is a protective reex of airways and
lungs, which reduces risks of infection, atelectasis,
and aspiration. Cough duration is very signicant
to identication of its causes (1):(1) acute cough
(shorter than three weeks) primarily in cases of
infections, aspirations, and stimulative conditions,
(2) subacute cough (3-8 weeks) mostly occurs in
viral infections; (3) chronic cough (longer than
8 weeks) primarily occurs in inammatory, neo-
plasms, and cardiovascular diseases. Most preva-
lent causes of acute and subacute cough are in-
fectious. Monto and Arbor (1995) and Greenberg
(2002) revealed that respiratory infections signi-
cantly affect death rate of children and adults (2-3).
As Lieberman et al. (1998) point out, vi-
ruses are the most inuential causes of respiratory
Corresponding Author: Samrad Mehrabi, Department of Internal
Medicine, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran.
diseases, by which upper and lower airways are in-
volved. Bacteria can also cause respiratory infec-
tions in a lower level of prevalence (4). According
to Mackie (2003), there are many viral pathogens
that cause acute upper respiratory tract infections
and seen in different patients depending on age,
season, and geographical region. Until 1960, inu-
enza and measles were known as viral respiratory
infections while next widely-conducted studies
also revealed rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, adeno-
viruses, parainuenza viruses, and respiratory syn-
cytial virus as causes of respiratory tract infections
(5). Braman (2006), Zimmerman et al. (2000), and
Ryan and Gibson (2008) demonstrate that coughs
lasting 3 weeks or longer or even several months
after primary infections are related to airway in-
fections but their infectious pathogens are hardly
Persistent cough has variety of pathogen-
esis and airways inammation is the main cause.
If lower airways get involved in the process of in-
ammation, the patient coughs due to an increase
Trends in Pharmaceucal Sciences 2016: 2(1):11-16.
in mucus secretion and impaired mucus clearance.
Upper airway inammation directly stimulates
cough receptors. Cough also may be caused by
inamed sinus secretions that stimulate cough re-
ceptors in larynx- and hypopharynx. Gastro pha-
ryngeal reux caused or worsened by coughs is
one of persistent cough pathogenesis. Cough also
starts and aggravates with multiple factors such as
cigarette smoking, dust, perfumes, chemical gases,
and even eating, drinking, laughing, and breathing
in cold air. Throat irritation is often reported by
patients, which cause bout of coughs (9).
As Ryan et al. (2012) showed, although
symptoms of respiratory infections are usually
resolved after control of infection, but sometimes
symptoms such as coughs may continue. As such
40% of adults are aficted with coughs after an
incidence of acute airway infections (10). These
constant coughs are regarded as 11-25% of chronic
coughs. Throat irritation is often reported by pa-
tients, which cause regular coughs (9). Kwon et al.
(2006) revealed occurrence of persistent coughs
after respiratory infections in 50% of cases (11).
Curley et al. (1988) showed that constant coughs
that persists 2 weeks or longer occur in 25% cases
of cold. Fifty percent of cases of whooping cough
and pneumonia are caused by mycoplasma pneu-
monia (12). In a study on 136 patients attending a
pulmonology clinic, 8% of chronic coughs were
post-infectious coughs (13). Findings of Ryan et
al. (2010) during inuenza pandemic (2009) on
136 patients demonstrated rate of 43% of post-
infectious chronic cough in patients suffering
from inuenza virus and 36% in cases suffered
from non-inuenza infection. Inuenza-suffering
patients have cough reex sensitivity nine times
greater as compared with patients not being af-
icted with post-infectious chronic cough (10).
Cough considered post infectious when a
patient complains of cough that lasts greater than
3 weeks but less than 8 weeks after an acute upper
respiratory tract infection and chest x-ray is nor-
mal (1, 14). The frequency of postinfectious cough
has been reported between 11% up to 50% during
outbreaks of Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Borde-
tella pertussis infections (6, 11). H1N1 inuenza
infection is also is a risk factor for persistent cough
that in one study has been reported in 43% of pa-
tients (10). Excessive cough can result in a variety
of complications (table 1) (15).
Irwin et al. (2006) and Morice et al.
(2006) found that as these persistent coughs do
not cause great incapability and they ignored by
some people. Conversely, educated persons and
some others attend clinics for treatment due to
their jobs (1, 16). Poe et al. (1989) showed that
symptomatic treatments including antihistamines,
decongestants, ipratropium bromide, and some-
times oral and nasal corticosteroids albeit during a
short period are used (17). Braman (2006), Morice
et al. (2006), and Ryan et al. (2010) suggested
antihistamines, narcotics, centrally acting coughs
suppressants, dextromethorphan, corticosteroids,
ipratropium bromide, and bronchodilators for these
coughs (6, 10, 16). Nevertheless, these coughs are
Fujimori et al. (1997) followed 22 patients
with post-infectious chronic coughs, without any
history of smoking cigarettes, taking ACE inhibi-
tors, atopy and sinus diseases. They revealed that
Table 1. Some complications of excessive cough.
Respiratory Subcutaneous emphysema, pneumomediastinum, pneumothorax, exacerbation of asthma, laryngeal trauma
Cardiovascular Arterial hypotension, dislodgment/malfunctioning of intravascular catheters, brady and tachyarrythmias
Gastrointestinal Gastroesophageal reux events, Mallory-Weiss tear, splenic rupture, herniations
Neurological Headache, dizziness, cough syncope, cerebral air embolism, acute cervical radiculopathy, seizures, stroke
due to vertebral artery dissection
Genitourinary Urinary incontinence, invertion of bladder through urethra
Musculoskeletal Rib fractures, diaphragmatic rupture,
Others Fear of serious disease, decreased quality of life, disruption of surgical wounds, petechiae and purpura
Trends in Pharmaceucal Sciences 2016: 2(1):11-16.
old women are more likely aficted with chron-
ic cough and effectively respond to a mixture of
dextromethorphan, hydrobromide, oxatomide
(H1antihistamine) and bakumondoto (a traditional
Japanese herbal medicine composed of six herbal
components). Nevertheless, they stated that there is
a need for standard treatment (18). Fujimori et al.
(1997) also evaluated the impact of dextrometho-
rphan and oxatomide combination upon cough
severity after 5-7 days, as compared with persons
taking only one of these medicines. They viewed
a combined treatment of dextromethorphan and
oxatomide as an effective cure for chronic cough
caused by upper airway infections (18). Moreover,
these scholars assess a combined treatment of ox-
atomide, antihistamine, bakumondoto (a Japen-
ese medicine controlling activities of C bers in
patients suffering from constant coughs after up-
per airway infections). After a three-week treat-
ment, cough severity is reduced by 50%. Accord-
ingly, they introduced this combined treatment as
an effective cure for constant coughs (19).
Liu et al. (2013) demonstrated in a detailed
review that Chinese herbal medicines are more
effective in post-infectious coughs as compared
with placebos and common Western medicines
(20). Wang et al. (2014) administered montelukast
10 md daily and placebo respectively to 127 and
139 patients aged 16-49 years old suffering from
post-infectious coughs. They followed patients
2 and 4 weeks later. Their ndings suggest that
montelukast does not reduce post-infectious
Holmes et al. (1992) highlighted
signicant impact of nasal spray ipratropium bro-
mide (320 mcg/d) uponpost-infectious persistent
cough control (22).
Different studies have investigated effects
of nasal corticosteroids on bronchial sensitivity
(23-25). Ewald et al. (1989) view low dosage of
nasal corticosteroids (400 mcg of beclomethasone
once daily) as ineffective in case of non-asthmatic
chronic cough (25).
Pornsuriyasak et al. (2005) administered
either nasal budesonide (400 mcg twice a day) or
placebo to 30 patients suffering from persistent
cough during 4 weeks to examine clinical impacts
of nasal corticosteroid upon persistent cough after
respiratory tract infections. They were followed up
in the second and fourth weeks. The ndings do not
show any signicant effect of nasal corticosteroid
on persistent cough, relative to placebo (26). Gillis-
sen et al. (2007) introduced nasal beclomethasone
dipropionate (400 mcg twice a day for 7 days and
200 mcg twice a day during the next 4 days) as an
effective cure of post-infectious cough (27). Some
uncontrolled studies also suggest a short-term oral
prednisone treatment (30-40 mg) in mornings and
gradual tappering during 2-3 weeks (17). Accord-
ing to two review studies, due to high prevalence
of coughs, their socio-economic burdens, and use
of antibiotics, further studies should be conducted
for management of post-infectious cough (28-29).
While post-infectious coughs last sever-
al weeks and months after infections (30), stud-
ies on post-infectious persistent coughs and their
pathogenesis only have considered coughs lasting
between 3 weeks and 8 weeks after infections as
post-infectious coughs. A small number of stud-
ies have investigated anti-inammatory medi-
cines in cases of post-infectious persistent coughs.
Stimulators of coughs should be identied before
treatment due to multiple pathogenetic factors of
coughs (increased reactivity of airways, increased
mucus secretions, mucociliary system disorders,
gastro pharyngeal reux, etc.). The best treatment
method is unknown inadults suffering from post-
infectious cough which is not caused by bacterial
sinusitis and whooping cough. Dextromethorphan,
antihistamines, ipratropium bromide, and decon-
gestants are usually administered for treatment
of these coughs. Conversely, antibiotics do not
play any role in this regard. With regard to dif-
ferent studies on post infectious cough and their
cure, further studies on corticosteroids and their
role in control of post-infectious coughs would be
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