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General Medical Questions
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Question : I just got over a chest cold about 3 weeks ago, but I still have a dry cough. How long is normal for the cough to last?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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June 13, 2011
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A:

A chest cold suggests that you had bronchitis caused by a viral infection. A cough can persist for two to three months after an episode of bronchitis.

Your immune system almost surely fought off the actual infection within a week. An infection in the bronchial tubes can leave you with inflamed airways. These inflamed airways will cause the coughing. The inflammation also can lead to tightening of the bronchial tubes. You might notice:

  • A tight feeling in your chest
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath when you exert yourself
  • Mild fatigue

I usually prescribe an albuterol inhaler (Proventil, Ventolin, generic versions) to use on an as-needed basis. Adults can take up to two puffs every 4 hours as needed. If this does not control the cough, sometimes an inhaler that contains corticosteroid can be added. Rarely, a person might need 7 to 10 days of oral corticosteroid (prednisone or methyl prednisolone).

There are other possible reasons for a persistent cough, such as post nasal drip. Also, it's possible that you had a cold and now allergies are responsible for the inflamed airways and coughing.

Although the cough after bronchitis can last for 3 months, contact your doctor if the cough is not getting better after another couple weeks. Depending on the circumstances, I often order a chest x-ray when a person has a cough for more than 6 weeks.

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