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Overview

It’s easy to think that coughing means you have a cold or bronchitis — but if that cough keeps coming back, it may be a sign of asthma.

Asthma affects the airways in the lungs, making them inflamed and swollen. The breathing tubes also become reactive, causing them to squeeze and tighten. That, in turn, makes the lungs more likely to be affected by allergens or irritants, such as pollen, pet dander, strong scents or fragrances, stress, exercise or cold air. Coughing is the body’s way of trying to remove whatever is irritating the lungs.

While people with asthma often experience a whistling or wheezing sound in the chest in addition to coughing, there is a form of asthma in which the only symptom is a chronic cough. This is known as cough-variant asthma. People with this kind of asthma generally don’t get relief from over-the-counter cough medicine; successful treatment requires prescription asthma medication, often in the form of inhalers.

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What Should Be Done to Control an Asthma Cough?

Prevention is always the best strategy. A person with asthma should know what situations trigger coughing and avoid them whenever possible. If coughing or other asthma symptoms are severe or unpredictable, or if they flare up more than twice a week, seeing an allergist can help determine their cause and provide long-term treatment that controls or eliminates them. Asthma medications prescribed by your allergist will help to relieve the coughing attacks. These include a fast-acting bronchodilator inhaler, which expands the airways in the lungs, or a corticosteroid inhaler, which relieves inflammation. Often both types are needed.

Common Asthma Cough Triggers

Coughing from asthma can occur after exercise, after exposure to specific triggers, after laughing, and often at night. Common triggers include:

  • Outdoor allergens, such as pollens from grass, trees and weeds
  • Indoor allergens, such as pet dander, dust mites and mold
  • Certain drugs or food additives
  • Irritants in the air, such as smoke, air pollution and chemical fumes, or strong odors, such as perfume
  • Colds, the flu or other illnesses
  • Exercise (although people with asthma benefit from exercise)
  • Stress
  • Weather conditions, such as cold air, heat and humidity, or rapidly changing weather patterns

For more information, visit the Asthma page.