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Doctors answer questions about cough and COVID-19

How does a regular cough differ from one that’s caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus? Is tuob (steam inhalation) a solution for COVID-19? Can over-the-counter (OTC) drugs help? 

These frequently asked questions about cough and COVID-19 were answered at a webinar held recently. 

How to know if a cough is COVID-related

Experts say coughing is the body’s natural reflex to get rid of unwanted elements like smoke, dust, phlegm, and other irritants in the airways and lungs. 

 “Essentially, ang ubo ay senyales na may underlying [problem] or meron tayong ibang sakit,” said Dr. Earl Sempio, biochemist and pulmonologist. (Essentially, it’s a sign of an underlying problem or sickness.)

An infectious disease specialist advises people with cough to self-isolate to protect others.
An infectious disease specialist advises people with cough to self-isolate to protect others.
 Bacterial or viral infections are usually accompanied by fever, body pain, and other signs of infection.

Considering the various causes for cough, it is hard to say whether a person who has it has COVID-19. An infectious diseases specialist also debunked the common misconception that there is a single indicator that a cough is related to the viral disease –  for instance, some COVID-19 patients reported having dry cough, others a cough with phlegm. 

“Mahirap sabihin na yung ubo is due to COVID-19. Ang importante kapag nagka-ubo ka, protect others. Mag-isolate na muna kayo,” said Dr. Joseph Adrian Buensalido. “Hindi namin masasabi kung COVID-19 ‘yan unless mapa-test natin.” 

(It’s not easy to determine whether a cough is due to COVID-19 or not, so if you have a cough, it’s better to protect others and self-isolate. Even doctors cannot certainly say that a patient has COVID-19 without testing.)

How to manage COVID-19 and cough at home

Aside from proper isolation to stem the spread of the virus in the household, Dr. Buensalido advised mild COVID-19 patients at home to take enough rest and fluids. 

OTC medicines such as carbocisteine can be helpful to relieve symptoms like cough with thick and hard to expel phlegm, while supplements like zinc can help strengthen the immune system to fight off viruses and bacteria, according to internist and pulmonologist Dr. Gwen Agra. 

Mucolytics like carbocisteine help clear the chest by making phlegm (mucus) less sticky and easier to cough up. Dr. Agra cited a study where carbocisteine was proven to lessen the growth of rhinovirus (common cold) in cultured human airway cells and decrease inflammatory chemicals.

Clockwise: Dr. Gwen Agra, Dr. Earl Sempio, host Boy Abunda, and Dr. Joseph Adrian Buensalido address common misconceptions about cough and COVID-19 during the ‘Kwentong Viral News Webinar’.
Clockwise: Dr. Gwen Agra, Dr. Earl Sempio, host Boy Abunda, and Dr. Joseph Adrian Buensalido address common misconceptions about cough and COVID-19 during the ‘Kwentong Viral News Webinar’.
“Ibig sabihin meron din siyang konting anti-inflammatory effect at nakakatulong din siyang mag-suppress ng virus hindi lang sa common cold, meron din sa influenza,” she added. (It means carbocisteine has a bit of anti-inflammatory effect and it helps suppress viruses like the common cold and influenza.)

Zinc, on the other hand, is crucial for growth, development, and maintenance of immune function. Several studies show zinc can help resolve the common cold faster. “Nababawasan niya ng mga dalawa hanggang tatlong araw yung illness. At ang zinc, magaling siya actually sa viruses kasi ang number one cause ng karaniwang sipon ay rhinovirus at ang number two, even before the pandemic, ay coronavirus,” explained Dr. Buensalido. 

(Zinc shortens the days of illness from two to three days, and is great in suppressing viruses like rhinovirus and coronavirus that usually cause the common cold.)

A local study conducted by Dr. Agra and her team among patients with non-bacterial cough found that the combination of carbocisteine and zinc for treatment resulted in reduced severity of cough caused by virus in three days and resolution of cough in just five days compared to the 10 to 14 days of recovery.

Topics: cough , COVID-19
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