A metallic taste when coughing can be alarming. There are many possible causes of having a metallic taste in your mouth. When paired with coughing, the culprit is likely an upper respiratory infection, like a cold.

Coughing up phlegm (which can have varying amounts of blood in it) frequently can lead to a distinct metallic taste in your mouth. Although this often indicates that you’re experiencing a common cold, there are plenty of other possible causes to consider.

Upper respiratory infection (common cold)

An upper respiratory infection (URI) is a viral infection that spreads from one person to another irritating the nose, throat, and lungs. It often comes with congestion and a nagging cough. The phlegm, mucus, and discharge from the infection can have a metallic taste that enters your mouth when coughing.

A cold is an extremely common upper respiratory infection. It affects even healthy adults around two to three times per year, and children even more so.

Other upper respiratory infections like sore throats and strep throats aren’t usually associated with a cough, so they don’t usually cause a metallic taste.

Anaphylactic reaction

Anaphylaxis is a severe and intense reaction to an allergen. It can occur either immediately or shortly after contact with an allergen. The affected person goes into shock as their immune system struggles to fight off the allergen.

These kinds of allergic reactions can sometimes be prefaced with a metallic taste in the mouth as the airways begin to restrict, causing wheezing and coughing.

Asthma or trouble breathing due to exercise

For people with trouble breathing due to asthma, or anyone new to intense exercise, sometimes a metallic taste along with wheezing or coughing can happen when breathing becomes difficult.

Pulmonary edema

Intense exercise can increase the pressure in the chest, which can push fluid into the lungs, a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary edema. Red blood cells in the fluid can enter into the lungs. When these are coughed up into the mouth, they bring with them a metallic taste.

A common cold will often run its course in a few days, but there are a few key warning signs you should keep in mind. You should see your doctor if, along with a metallic taste in your mouth, you experience other symptoms including:

Long-lasting or high fever

A low grade fever is a common symptom of an upper respiratory infection, but you should go to the doctor or hospital immediately if your fever spikes past 103°F (39°C).

Additionally, if a fever lasts more than five days, seek medical attention.

Coughing up blood

A small amount of blood in the phlegm or mucus you cough up during a cold is normal. A little bit of blood in your phlegm will make it look red or pink in color, and usually means that the frequent coughing has irritated your respiratory tract. As an upper respiratory infection progresses, your phlegm may become more yellow or green.

Coughing up large, visible amounts of blood, however, could be a sign of a serious condition like:

Wheezing or trouble breathing

If your cough is so severe that you have trouble breathing, you should see a doctor. Difficulty breathing could be a sign that your airways are narrowing due to a serious medical condition such as:

If your cough with a metallic taste is being caused by a common cold, there are few options in the way of treatment. The virus needs to run its course and cannot be cured with antibiotics.

However, you can treat some of the symptoms of a common cold.

Pain relievers. If your upper respiratory infection has left you achy or with a sore throat, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help temporarily relieve the discomfort.

Decongestants.Coughing up large amounts of phlegm and mucus can lead to a metallic taste in your mouth. One way to treat this is to reduce the amount of congestion you’re experiencing with an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant like phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

Cough medicine. A cough suppressant may help with your cold symptoms and the metallic taste you’re experiencing. Dextromethorphan (Robitussin) is a common and easily available option for reducing a stubborn cough.

See your doctor for if you’re experiencing symptoms like a very high or long-lasting fever, or if you think the metallic taste in your mouth is from another condition such as:

  • asthma
  • anaphylactic shock
  • pulmonary embolism

Most people who experience the taste of metal in their mouth when coughing are simply experiencing a common cold or upper respiratory infection. Repeatedly coughing up phlegm often brings small amounts of blood into the mouth and onto the taste buds, triggering a metallic taste.

However, a cold is not the only cause of a metallic taste in your mouth. You should see a doctor immediately if you suspect the taste isn’t coming from congestion and coughing. Keep an eye out for other symptoms such as:

  • very high fever
  • coughing up blood
  • trouble breathing