Parkinson’s causes a progressive weakening of muscles throughout the body, including the throat. This can lead to difficulty swallowing and coughing. Speech therapy and lifestyle changes can help.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological condition that causes symptoms such as tremors and loss of muscle control.

As the condition progresses, it can lead to muscle weakness, including in the throat. This can make swallowing difficult.

It can also cause a buildup of phlegm and mucus due to less effective coughing and clearing of the throat. These factors can trigger more coughing and increase the potential for lung infections, such as pneumonia.

Keep reading to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for coughing in Parkinson’s.

Coughing for people with Parkinson’s is typically related to a weakening of the muscles in the throat. When these muscles weaken, the throat can’t function as it should. This makes it harder to swallow and can lead to coughing.

Weakened throat muscles also increase the risk of choking and developing serious infections, such as pneumonia.

Someone with Parkinson’s might develop:

  • chronic cough
  • a cough that occurs when they eat
  • a cough that gets worse at night when lying down

Respiratory infections can make coughing worse. If you have difficulty swallowing and coughing related to Parkinson’s, you may have a higher risk of developing pneumonia.

On top of the higher risk, weakened throat muscles can make it more difficult for your respiratory system to clear mucus buildup caused by pneumonia. This can make it harder for your body to fight the infection.

Symptoms of worsening Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s often progresses in stages. In the early stages, symptoms are often minor. Many people are able to manage the condition and remain independent. In later stages, people often need the assistance of healthcare professionals to handle daily tasks.

Symptoms of worsening Parkinson’s can include:

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The primary treatment for coughing in Parkinson’s disease is speech therapy. A speech therapist can teach you exercises to strengthen and improve control of your throat muscles.

This type of therapy can help a person with Parkinson’s improve their voluntary cough function so they will be less likely to choke or develop lung infections due to a buildup of phlegm or mucus.

Therapy can also improve:

In addition to speech therapy, your doctor might recommend taking the following steps to reduce coughing:

  • always sit up straight when you eat and drink
  • eat and drink slowly
  • only eat foods that are easy to swallow
  • drink thicker liquids that are easier to swallow
  • avoid eating foods of different consistencies in the same bite

If you develop pneumonia, you’ll need antibiotics to treat the infection. People who have coughing caused by Parkinson’s are at risk for more severe pneumonia. For this reason, you may be asked to stay in the hospital while receiving antibiotics.

While you’re there, you might receive additional medications that can make it easier for your body to cough up the mucus and phlegm in your throat.

The exact amount of time you’ll need to be in the hospital and medications you’ll need will depend on the severity of your infection and on your overall health.

Any neurological condition that leads to weakened muscles or to a change in the way your brain and your throat muscles communicate can lead to coughing.

This includes:

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that leads to progressive muscle weakness. When the muscles in the throat weaken, it can lead to difficulty swallowing, phlegm buildup, throat irritation, and dry mouth.

Because a weakened cough is not as effective at expelling phlegm and mucus, people with Parkinson’s have a higher chance of developing lung infections.

Treatments include speech therapy and modifications to eating and drinking habits. These can help reduce your need to cough and improve your ability to cough effectively.