Is that Irritating Cough a Sign of Asthma?
Is coughing disturbing your sleep night after night? Or perhaps you have a dry cough throughout the day that just won’t go away. Coughing is usually associated with a respiratory illness or allergies; however, constant coughing can indicate other medical issues.
“Some patients develop a chronic cough during a cold or other respiratory illness and weeks later assume the lingering cough is normal, when in fact, they have developed asthma in response to the respiratory virus,” says Brent McQuaid, MD, a pulmonologist with LeBauer Pulmonary Care in Greensboro and LeBauer HealthCare at Burlington Station. “A constant cough, even if it doesn’t follow an illness, should be evaluated by a physician.”
For some patients, a cough may be the only sign of asthma according to McQuaid. Other asthma sufferers will experience more classic symptoms, such as shortness of breath, a tight chest, or wheezing.
“If your cough increases with exercise or exposure to cold air, dust, pet dander, or strong fragrances, there is a good chance you have asthma,” says McQuaid.
To diagnose asthma, a physician will administer a spirometry test that measures how much air your lungs can hold and how much air you can exhale after taking a deep breath. Other tests may also be ordered, or your doctor may see if your symptoms respond to medications designed for asthma.
Your physician can help you develop a plan to manage asthma. You may periodically need adjust this plan. Three important tools for controlling asthma include:
- Tracking Your Symptoms – Keep a diary to record when you have a flare-up with shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing; asthma symptoms during exercise; use of your quick-relief (rescue) inhaler; hay fever symptoms, such as sneezing or a runny nose; and any other conditions that seem to trigger an asthma flare-up.
- Measuring Breathing Function – A peak flow meter is a hand-held device you can use at home to measure how well your lungs are working. Your physician or nurse will teach you how to use the meter.
- Proper Use of Medications – Medications designed to provide long-term control of asthma, such as inhaled corticosteroids, treat the airway inflammation that leads to asthma symptoms. These medications are taken daily and help reduce or eliminate asthma flare-ups. Quick-relief inhalers are used as needed to quickly open airways and make breathing easier.
When to See a Doctor
If you have had a cough for six to eight weeks or regularly experience shortness of breath, wheezing, or a tight chest, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor or a pulmonologist. Pulmonologists specializes in diseases and disorders of the lungs. The LeBauer pulmonary team sees patients at three locations in the Triad area, including Greensboro, High Point, and Burlington. To schedule an appointment, find the LeBauer Pulmonary Care location nearest you.