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There is an association between an ongoing (chronic) cough and illnesses like asthma. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, chronic coughs last for at least eight weeks or longer. Persistent coughing is one of the telltale symptoms of asthma. Learn more about asthmatic cough and how to treat the symptoms of this chronic condition.
The purpose of a cough is to remove foreign particles and bacteria to prevent a possible infection. There are two types of coughs: productive and nonproductive. When a cough is productive, it means that a noticeable amount of phlegm expelled. This enables the lungs to get rid of harmful substances.
Coughing in people with asthma can be helpful because it’s one of the body’s natural defense mechanisms. A productive asthmatic cough will expel phlegm and mucus from the lungs. In most cases of asthma, the cough is considered nonproductive. A nonproductive cough is a dry cough. It’s a response to an irritant that forces the bronchial tubes to spasm (or constrict). Swelling (inflammation) and constriction of the airways, which prompts this type of nonproductive cough, characterize asthma.
An asthma cough is also often accompanied by wheezing. This is a high-pitched whistling sound caused by a constricted airway.
A cough is a very common asthma symptom. It’s sometimes the only symptom of this condition. When figuring out whether your cough is due to asthma or not, it may be helpful to assess any other related symptoms you have. Other asthma symptoms may include:
With asthma, a cough can be troublesome, especially at nighttime. It makes getting restful sleep difficult and sometimes requires special treatment. Night coughs are most often related to asthma or other breathing problems such as emphysema.
It’s also important to understand symptoms that are not associated with asthma cough. Seek emergency medical attention If any of the following symptoms accompany your cough:
Before you start an asthmatic cough treatment regimen, your doctor will order breathing tests to measure your lung function. You may need to have these test periodically to measure the effectiveness of any medications you’re taking.
Controller medications are often used to treat asthma. Inhaled corticosteroids help decrease lung inflammation, one of the causes of asthma cough. These are used on a long-term basis, unlike oral corticosteroids, which are used for short periods of time during severe flare-ups.
Doctors prescribe quick-relief inhalers to have on-hand in case of wheezing and coughing flare-ups. Most of these treatments fall into the class of short-acting beta-antagonists.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, quick-relief inhalers are generally meant for use once or twice a week. Your doctor may also recommend them for use before exercise, or during an illness. Call your doctor if you find you rely on your quick-relief inhaler more often than recommended.
Long-term oral medications such as leukotriene modifiers may also relieve asthma cough. One such drug is montelukast (Singulair). Leukotriene modifiers work by treating asthma symptoms related to allergic rhinitis.
Alternative treatments may help an asthmatic cough, but they are complementary treatments. Never stop prescription medications for homeopathic medicine. Ask your doctor if the following options may help your asthma cough:
Aside from treatment, you can help decrease the incidence of asthma cough with a few lifestyle changes. For example, placing a humidifier in your room can help ease night coughs. You may also have to limit outdoor activities if the air quality is poor.
An important prevention tool is to identify your asthma triggers. You should avoid irritants and triggers that can worsen your cough. These may include:
If allergies make your asthma worse, you may also need to prevent and treat allergen exposure before your asthma symptoms get better.
Asthma itself isn’t curable. But if you’re able to manage your symptoms you’ll be more comfortable. Treating asthma symptoms like cough is also important in preventing lung damage, especially in children. With proper management, your cough should eventually ease. Be sure to call your doctor if your asthmatic cough continues despite treatment.
Written by: Brian Krans and Kristeen Cherney
Medically reviewed on: Mar 20, 2017: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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