asthma - cough

Not All Asthma Wheezes

Non-Wheezing Asthma is called Cough-Variant Asthma.

With this type of asthma the main symptom is a dry, non-productive cough. (A non-productive cough does not expel any mucus from the respiratory tract.) People with cough-variant asthma often have no other “classic” asthma symptoms, such as wheezing or shortness of breath.

Cough-variant asthma is one of the causes of chronic cough, described as a cough that has lasted longer than six to eight weeks. The coughing with asthma can occur during the day or at night. If you have nighttime asthma, it can interrupt sleep. Often, exercise can be a trigger for cough without other asthma symptoms. Coughing may also increase when there is exposure to asthma triggers or allergy-causing substances like dust or strong fragrances, or cold air.

Anyone can get cough-variant asthma at any time, but it is very common in young kids with childhood asthma. Cough-variant asthma may evolve into “classic” asthma, with symptoms that include shortness of breath and wheezing.

Like “classic” asthma there’s really no single cause of cough-variant asthma. However, coughing may start after people are exposed to allergens, or when they are breathing in cold air. Coughing may also follow an upper respiratory infection. For example, sinusitis with asthma is common.

In addition, a cough that begins after a person has begun taking beta-blockers is likely to be cough-variant asthma. Beta-blockers are drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, migraines, palpitations, and other conditions. Beta-blockers are also found in eye drops to treat glaucoma and other eye problems. These eye drops can bring on asthma symptoms, including cough. Aspirin-sensitivity is another cause of coughing with asthma.

Cough-variant asthma may be somewhat difficult to diagnose because the cough may be the only symptom, and cough itself may appear to be bronchitis or cough associated with postnasal drip.

Your doctor/allergist will ask you questions about your medical history and will examine you and listen to you breathe. However, people with cough-variant asthma often have normal physical exams, chest X-rays, and breathing test. Very often treatment with asthma medications  will resolve the cough that is creating the diagnosis of cough-variant asthma.

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