A cough that lasts this winter could be the result of people picking up one infection after another, a family doctor expert said.
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, president of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors have noticed that the current round of respiratory infections seems to be taking longer than usual.
She said figures from the College’s Research and Surveillance Center show that the number of lower and upper respiratory tract infections is well above the average usually seen in the winter so far.
This is reflected in weekly data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which has found high rates of flu and other respiratory viruses.
Prof Hawthorne told the PA news agency: “It is not clear why some of the current respiratory infections seem to last longer than usual – this has been noticed by doctors and patients alike, but we are not entirely sure why this is. happens.
“Most people have been socially isolated for the past two winters and this seems to have reduced their resistance to infection – this seems to make them more likely to pick up infections than in previous years.
“So in some cases it can be a matter of picking up one infection after another. They are all different and overcoming one type of infection will not give immunity against the other.
“We encourage patients to do what they can to keep themselves healthy this winter, including practicing good public hygiene such as regular hand washing, or using hand gels if that is not possible, and throwing away tissues once they are used. are used. “
Prof Hawthorne said most patients who have coughs and colds will recover without medical attention.
She recommended regular paracetamol for any temperature, sore throat or earache, staying warm, getting plenty of rest, and drinking plenty of fluids.
“We want to encourage patients to understand that giving antibiotics for viral infections won’t help because they only help with bacterial infections,” she said.
“Most upper respiratory infections are due to viruses.
“Pharmacists will also be able to advise on suitable over-the-counter medicines that can help with the symptoms, but will not ‘cure’ the infection.
“If a cough is particularly persistent, or produces discolored mucus, is severely aggravated with shortness of breath, or if a patient experiences chest pain or loses weight for no reason, they should seek medical advice.”
Prof Hawthorne said GPs and their teams are experiencing a huge increase in demand for appointments, including from people whose physical and mental health is suffering due to rising costs of living, particularly energy and food bills.
“It goes without saying that if patients struggle to eat healthily or heat their homes or live in humid conditions, it will have an impact on their health – and the added stress of financial hardship will undoubtedly take a toll on mental health of people,” she said.
She urged the government to “address the severe and chronic labor shortage in general practice” alongside cutting red tape so that GPs can spend more time with their patients.
Dr. Andrew Whittamore, clinical head of Asthma and Lung UK, who is also a general practitioner, told PA that some doctors have seen increased coughing this winter, which may be related to weather changes and the nature of specific viruses.
He added: “We haven’t seen as much Covid, but it’s still there. And we’ve also had viruses like Strep A, where a lot of people came to us with a cough but also had a sore throat – mostly children, but also a lot of adults.
“Covid affects people in many different ways – some may develop scarring of their lungs and fibrosis, which can cause a prolonged cough.
“That’s why we tell anyone who is still coughing four weeks after getting Covid to really get a chest X-ray and get checked.”
He said anyone who has had a cough for about three to four weeks or more should seek help to rule out other illnesses as well.
“With these checks, we can detect lung cancer, lung cancer and so on,” he said.
“It is definitely worth contacting a GP for a persistent cough as you may need a chest x-ray.
“In many cases, it’s comforting advice, just to say ‘Actually, this is what’s going on, it sounds like you’ve got a virus or another virus on top’.
“But sometimes these things need treatment, sometimes they need to be investigated, and sometimes you pick up people who might have underlying asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) because they’re wheezing, they get breathless, they get stuffy.” .
“So we can identify people who have these conditions that may be making them sicker.”
On the cost-of-living crisis, Dr Whittamore said people who contact the Asthma and Lung UK helpline “and some patients I’ve seen in my own clinics” have to choose between warming up and eating. Others cannot afford prescriptions.
“In some cases, people don’t stick with medicines that keep them healthy – for example, inhalers or tablets for lung disease – and that can put them at risk for even more viruses during the winter and more chest symptoms.
“So we are really urging people to make sure they heat their homes to about 18C or higher and to make sure they get all their medicines to keep themselves healthy.
“Anyone who is really struggling might want to call the Asthma and Lung UK helpline. They have some great hints and tips for how people can stay healthy even when they are struggling financially.