What Causes Asthma Cough: It’s Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment
Having a cough can be a big nuisance. Not only are you hacking away the entire day, but it often leaves you feeling tired and out of breath. Constantly coughing in the office can also become a cause of embarrassment when it refuses to let up. In fact, statistics show that a cough is one of the most common reasons or complaints for which people seek medical attention. Asthma cough, also known as cough variant asthma, is a form of asthma that only presents with a cough. Due to the fact that most people associate asthma with breathing trouble, asthma cough tends to go undiagnosed many a times.
What is an Asthma Cough?
An asthma cough is commonly known as cough variant asthma. In fact, it surprises many people to learn that cough variant asthma is also a type of asthma which is only marked by the presence of a dry and nonproductive cough. Most types of asthma have the patient suffering from some kind of breathing problem, typically shortness of breath and wheezing. However, in an asthma cough, the individual presents with no traditional asthma symptoms and therefore, this condition often fails to be diagnosed correctly.
In spite of the fact that an asthma cough does not have any of the traditional asthma symptoms, it does have an impact on the body. This includes:
- An asthma cough increases your risk of catching other allergic conditions
- It increases the body's sensitivity to allergens, particularly the sensitivity of the airways
- An asthma cough can cause swelling and narrowing of the airways, thus causing disruption in air flow
Cough variant asthma is often also known as a chronic cough because doctors use this term to refer to a cough that lasts for over 6 to 8 weeks. If you have an asthma cough, you will be coughing either during the day or during the night. In particular, nighttime asthma cough is considered to be worse, as it often causes disturbed sleep. Asthma a cough also becomes worse with exercise. This condition is then referred to as exercise-induced asthma. Dust, strong perfumes, cold air, or any allergy-triggering factors can increase asthma coughing.
It will be correct to say that traditional asthma cases cause much more severe implications on the body as compared to cough variant asthma. However, a certain percentage (around 40%) of patients having cough variant asthma can go on to develop regular asthma with time. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize and treat an asthma cough as soon as possible to prevent it from worsening into a case of classic asthma.
What Causes an Asthma Cough?
An asthma cough still remains a condition, which is not completely understood. Therefore, its causes are also unclear. However, it seems like an asthma cough develops mostly after the following instances:
- Exposure or breathing in cold air
- Regular exposure to allergens and pollutants
- Any upper respiratory tract infection, particularly sinusitis
- Regular intake of aspirin
- Consuming beta blockers for treating heart disease, heart failure, migraines, palpitations, high blood pressure, and other medical conditions
You need to be aware that beta blockers are also found in some eye drops that are used for treating certain eye problems like glaucoma. Regularly using these eye drops can also trigger an asthma cough.
In fact, allergies have been proven to have a clear connection with asthma. Many studies have shown that nearly 85% of all patients with asthma tend to have some form of nasal allergies. There seems to an immunological link associated with an asthma cough as well because of the fact that allergies are a resultant of our immune system causing an overreaction to an allergen that generally will not cause any reaction.
While anyone can get cough variant asthma at any time in their lives, it is usually more common in children who already have childhood asthma.
Certain people, though, are at a higher risk for developing an asthma cough. Some of these risk factors that doctors assess and take into consideration before making a diagnosis of cough variant asthma include:
- Already suffering from classic asthma
- Having more than one allergic conditions
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a family history of asthma
- Regular exposure to secondhand smoke or smoking yourself
- Regular exposure to occupational allergens or environmental irritants
What Are The Symptoms of an Asthma Cough?
Cough variant asthma or an asthma cough is usually known to have no other symptom apart from a chronic dry and nonproductive cough. A nonproductive cough means that it does not produce any mucus. Lasting for more than 8 to 10 weeks in adults and more than 5 weeks in children, an asthma cough is not considered to be a serious condition on its own. However, a chronic cough is irritating and disrupts your daily life.
Sometimes, to understand whether or not your cough is happening due to asthma, doctors may assess if you have any of these related symptoms:
- Trouble exercising
- Shortness of breath
- Repeated and prolonged bouts of infections or diseases
- Disruptive sleep from night coughs
- Wheezing and chest tightness
Keep in mind that it is necessary to treat an asthma cough properly and in time because if it is left untreated and ignored, then it may progress into regular asthma. If you notice the following symptoms, your asthma cough might well be developing into classic asthma:
- Tightness feeling in the chest
- Difficulty in breathing followed by shortness of breath
- Asthma attacks - when you feel that the air is not able to reach your lungs due to the narrowing of the airways
How is an Asthma Cough Diagnosed?
It is quite difficult to understand when you need to seek medical opinion for your asthma cough. In most cases, because the only symptom is a chronic cough, people tend to ignore the problem and continue on with their lives. However, if your cough has lasted for more than 8 weeks and you cannot clearly identify any reason behind it, then you should consult your doctor.
Your doctor will begin by prescribing breathing tests that measure your lung capacity and lung function. You will probably be made to have these tests from time to time so that your doctor can understand the effectiveness of your medications. In some cases, allergy testing is also prescribed, particularly if the doctor suspects an allergen trigger behind your asthma cough.
Some doctors may also suggest a methacholine challenge test. In this test, when you inhale methacholine, it triggers a bout of coughing and bronchial spasms. While this trigger is observed in everyone, a person suffering from asthma will have an increased sensitivity to the test.
How to Treat Asthma Cough?
Treating an asthma cough involves taking controller medications. Corticosteroids for inhaling will help reduce the inflammation in the lungs, which is said to be the biggest cause of an asthma cough. Inhaled corticosteroids are usually a long-term solution for cough variant asthma. For getting relief in the short term, oral corticosteroids are usually prescribed. Quick-relief inhalers are recommended to keep handy to take care of coughing and wheezing incidences. These quick-relief inhalers, though, are only meant for using once or twice in a week. You may also use them before exercising or if you are suffering from a disease and are generally feeling unwell, triggering a bout of coughing.
Oral medications for relieving asthma cough include leukotriene modifiers such as montelukast, brand name Singulair. These drugs work by treating the symptoms of asthma which are associated with allergic rhinitis.
There are also some alternative treatments that you can opt for treating an asthma cough. However, you should not stop taking your prescribed medications for other complementary treatments such as homeopathy. Your doctor will be the best person to advise you on whether the following options can provide relief in cough variant asthma:
- Pranayama (yogic breathing exercises)
- Herbal therapy with gingko and dried ivy
The best thing you can do when suffering from an asthma cough is to identify what triggers off your coughing and decrease your exposure to these triggers. You can also get relief by making some lifestyle modifications such as using a humidifier to help with nighttime coughing. Judging by the air quality outside, you should also limit your exposure to outside air. Avoid the following irritants and triggers that are likely to trigger off an episode of coughing:
- Cold air
- Weather changes
- Dust, pollen, mold, pet dander
- Cleaning chemicals
- Low humidity weather
While there is no actual cure for an asthma cough, you will be better by learning to manage your symptoms and identifying the triggers for your cough. If you do not get relief and your cough continues to bother you, then consult your doctor for further advice.
- Asthma: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Home Remedies, Prevention
- Exercise-Induced Asthma: Trigger, Facts, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention
- Childhood Asthma: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Asthma Action Plan
- Can You Grow Out of Asthma?
- Ways to Treat Asthma Naturally
- Cardiac Asthma: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Risk Factors
- Which Medicines Make Asthma Worse?
- What is the Alternative for Generic Asthma Inhalers?
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- Desai, D. and Brightling, C., 2010. Cough due to asthma, cough-variant asthma and non-asthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, 43(1), pp.123-130.
- Pavord, I.D., 2004. Cough and asthma. Pulmonary pharmacology & therapeutics, 17(6), pp.399-402.