A chronic dry cough is a common symptom of asthma. Inhaled corticosteroids, quick-relief inhalers, and oral medications may help ease asthma symptoms, including a cough. Some alternative treatments may be helpful, too.
While many people first think of wheezing or gasping for breath when it comes to asthma symptoms, there’s also an association between an ongoing (chronic) cough and asthma.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, chronic coughs last for at least 8 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.
Coughing has a purpose. Your body has you cough to remove foreign particles and bacteria to prevent possible infections.
Coughing in people with asthma can be helpful because it’s one of the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
There are two main types of coughs: productive and nonproductive.
When a cough is productive, it means that a noticeable amount of phlegm is expelled. This enables the lungs to get rid of harmful substances. A productive asthmatic cough will expel phlegm and mucus from the lungs.
But in most cases with asthma, the cough is considered a nonproductive 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 — characterizes asthma.
An asthma cough is also often accompanied by wheezing. This is a high-pitched whistling sound caused by a constricted airway.
Symptoms associated with asthma cough
A cough is a very common asthma symptom. In some people, cough is sometimes the only noticeable symptom of the 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 possible asthma symptoms include:
- chest tightness
- fatigue or waking up from night coughing
- problems exercising
- prolonged illnesses and infections
- shortness of breath
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
Symptoms not associated with asthma cough
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:
- chest pain or pressure that is atypical for the usual chest tightness associated with asthma
- coughing up blood
- high or long lasting fever
- loss of appetite
- night sweats
- problems talking because of breathing difficulties
- changes in skin color due to difficulty breathing
- unintentional weight loss
- progressive difficulty walking shorter and shorter distances
Before you start any treatments for asthma cough, a doctor will likely do a physical exam. They may also order breathing tests to measure your lung function. You may need to have these tests done periodically to measure the effectiveness of any medications you’re taking.
These diagnostic tools are most effective in people ages 5 and older. A doctor might also do allergy testing if they suspect allergens are triggering your asthma cough.
In some cases, a doctor may also prescribe a steroid inhaler and assess your response to the medication to diagnose asthma.
There are several treatment options for asthma and its related cough.
Controller medications are a commonly used method of treating 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 should not take the place of controller medications and should be used less than twice a week. A doctor may also recommend them for use before exercise or during an illness.
Consider talking with a 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.
Learn more about asthma medications.
Alternative treatments may help an asthmatic cough, but they are complementary treatments. Never use alternative treatments in a medical emergency or stop prescription medications for homeopathic medicine.
Reach out to a doctor if you want to try any of the following options to help with your asthma coughing:
- herbs, such as dried ivy and gingko
- yoga breathing (pranayama)
Aside from treatment, you can help decrease how often you experience your asthma cough with a few lifestyle changes. For example, placing a humidifier in your room can help ease coughing at night. You may also have to limit outdoor activities if the air quality is poor.
One of the most important prevention tools for living with asthma is learning to identify your asthma triggers.
You should avoid irritants and triggers that can worsen your cough. Some common triggers include:
- cigarette smoke
- chemicals and cleaners
- cold air
- weather changes
- low humidity
- pet dander
- viral infections
If allergies make your asthma worse, you may also need to prevent and treat allergen exposure before your asthma symptoms get better.
While asthma itself is not “curable,” you can manage your symptoms and find relief. Treating asthma symptoms like coughing is also important to prevent lung damage, especially in children.
With proper management, your cough should eventually ease. Be sure to reach out to a doctor if your asthma cough continues despite treatment.