Got a Cough? You’re Screwed for 18 Days, Study Says

How long does a cough from a cold last? If you think you can fight it off in about a week’s time, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

According to a new study in the Journal Annals of Family Medicine, no matter how you try to cure a cough, it’s going to stick around for at least 18 days, and possibly more than three weeks. Dr. Mark Ebell, an associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, conducted the study “after noticing the disconnect between how long people thought coughs should last and how long they actually lingered” according to NBC News.

After surveying 500 Georgia residents and reviewing 19 published medical studies, what he found was that even though people predicted a cough would stick around for about a week, the mean duration was actually 17.8 days, with a range of 15.3 to 28.6 days. Yeah, that’s a bit longer than a week.

It gets worse: Because of the public’s misconception, Ebell found that many people take antibiotics to treat the cough and think that this treatment helps.  

“A lot of times patients will come to me and they’ve been coughing for four or five days and they’re not getting any better, so they ask for an antibiotic,” he said. “After eight or nine days, they’re still not feeling better, so they ask for an even stronger antibiotic. Then they’ll say, ‘The only thing that really works for me is this really strong antibiotic.’”

But since about 90 percent of these cases are viral, not bacterial, those antibiotics and medicines patients request don’t do a thing to cure them.

What does cure the cough? Time.

“Although this outcome [of an improvement in the patient’s condition] may reinforce the mistaken idea that the antibiotic worked, it is merely a reflection of the natural history of acute cough,” Ebell explains.

So you can take all the antibiotics you want, but you aren’t going to chase away the cough before it is ready. Instead this practice can lead to an increase in drug-resistant bugs and other infections.  

All hope isn’t lost however. For temporary relief of symptoms, Gustavo Ferrer, director of the new cough clinic at the Cleveland Clinic’s Weston, Fla. suggests using antihistamines such as Benadryl, to reduce the cough by drying up your airways.

Better yet, stay away from the medicines altogether and try one of these natural alternatives if a flu is the culprit.

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