What Are the Symptoms of and Treatments for Coughing Asthma?

Staff WriterLast Updated Jun 24, 2020 7:04:30 PM ET
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Cough-variant asthma differs from other types of this respiratory disorder. It's characterized by a dry, nonproductive cough that lasts more than four weeks in children and more than eight weeks in adults. Learn more about coughing asthma symptoms and treatments to understand this type of asthma and how you can live comfortably with this condition.

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What Is Coughing Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes your windpipe to swell up and narrow, which makes it difficult to breathe. It also typically results in shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and a feeling of constriction in your chest. When you have asthma, you may find it difficult to exert yourself because it feels as though you can't get enough air into your body when your heart rate is elevated.

This respiratory disorder is one of the more common types of lung disease, and it affects children and adults. It can range in severity from mild to life-threatening and may impact your life in a variety of ways. There are four categories of asthma that rank the condition's severity, but there are also multiple types of this disease — including coughing asthma.

Cough-variant asthma is a type of this respiratory disease that primarily causes a dry cough, meaning it doesn't cause you to expel mucus when you do cough. Typically, when people have this type of asthma, they don't experience the other common symptoms of the disorder like shortness of breath or wheezing. The cough can happen at any time of the day or night, possibly interrupting sleep in the nighttime hours. If you're exposed to an allergen or cold air, your coughing could begin to increase, too. Like the other types of the condition, coughing asthma can worsen when you exert yourself.

You may be wondering how this respiratory disease can be classified as asthma even when it doesn't present many of the same symptoms as "classic" asthma, but it still causes a narrowing and swelling of your airway, both of which make it difficult to breathe. Although these effects may be less severe with cough-variant asthma than they are with other forms of the condition, many people who have coughing asthma go on to develop classic asthma. Anyone can get coughing asthma, and while it's more common in children, it also affects adults.

Causes and Symptoms of Coughing Asthma

Doctors and researchers still aren't entirely sure what causes asthma, but they believe it could be due to a combination of environmental triggers and a genetic predisposition to developing the condition. Many substances in the environment can trigger an asthma attack, including allergens and other airborne irritants, pollution, respiratory illnesses, stress, temperature changes and even exercise. These triggers differ from person to person; exercise may not affect someone who's sensitive to pollution, and vice versa. Even some medications may cause asthma.

If you have a blood relative who has asthma, your chances of developing it are higher. You're also at an increased risk of getting asthma if you work in a job that involves the use of chemicals or exposes you to smoke. In addition, about 80% of people who have asthma also have seasonal and other nasal allergies. Because allergies are often related to issues with your immune system, cough-variant asthma may also be linked to similar issues.

Although classic asthma involves a number of symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath, coughing that leads to difficulty breathing is often the only symptom present with cough-variant asthma. This condition involves a chronic cough, meaning it lasts longer than two months in adults and one month in children. As mentioned, the cough doesn't produce any mucus; it's a dry cough.

Treating Cough-variant Asthma

Treatment for asthma coughing is mainly focused on managing the cough and preventing cough variant asthma from leading to classic asthma or other complications, such as pneumonia, a collapsed lung or a permanent narrowing of your airway. Because of this, the treatments for coughing asthma are typically the same as those for classic asthma. Your doctor might prescribe rescue inhalers to use in a coughing attack, and you may also use inhaled corticosteroids to reduce airway swelling. Antihistamines can help alleviate allergy symptoms, and other oral medications can also help with keeping your airways clear. If you have allergies, your doctor may also prescribe medicines that keep your immune system from activating the responses that result in both asthma and allergic reactions.

Prevention is an essential component of treating coughing asthma, and there are a few steps you can take to prevent your cough from flaring up. If you smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products, quit as soon as you can; the smoke irritates your lungs and airway. Avoid exposing yourself to known allergens and other environmental triggers, such as chemicals, whenever possible. Take all your asthma medications exactly as prescribed, too.

There are several steps you can take to manage your cough-variant asthma symptoms naturally, too. Before you try any herbs or alternative medicines, check with your doctor to make sure it's safe to try these natural options. Try taking a steam bath to ease airway irritation and reduce any nasal congestion you might be experiencing. If you have any food sensitivities or allergies, work on changing your diet to avoid the ingredients that trigger you. 

Stress is also a known asthma trigger, and applying stress-relief techniques may help you avoid an asthma attack. In particular, some of the breathing exercises utilized in yoga may help calm you. Some people find relief from coughs with a little honey mixed into a warm drink. The honey may soothe an irritated throat too.

Resource Links:

https://asthmarp.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40733-015-0008-0

https://acaai.org/asthma/asthma-symptoms/asthma-cough

https://acaai.org/asthma/asthma-symptoms

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20369653

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182093/

https://academic.oup.com/omcr/article/2014/2/29/1478390