Constant coughing can be a pain in the neck

woman coughing with fist

You’ve noticed one of your employees has a chronic cough. She’s mentioned that she’s not sick and doesn’t have other symptoms that would suggest something more — such as wheezing, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest.

Asthma probably isn’t on her radar, but should it be? Doctors say maybe. Your employee might have a specific type of asthma in which chronic cough is the sole symptom. It’s called cough-variant asthma.

Trouble in the lungs

Asthma is a lung disease that causes your airways to swell and constrict, making it hard to breathe. Airways that are inflamed are more sensitive to irritation — which can come in the form of things like strong odors, chemicals, cold air or allergies.

If you or someone in your office has cough-variant asthma, the cough may be triggered by exposure to any of these things.

Get a diagnosis

A chronic cough could be a sign of other health problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux or postnasal drip. So the first step is to see the doctor if the cough is persistent — especially at night — and over-the-counter cough medicines or holistic remedies don’t help.

  • A doctor may order tests, such as a chest X-ray.
  • You may be asked to exhale with force through a tube for a test called spirometry.
  • You might also undergo a breathing test specifically for cough-variant asthma, called a methacholine challenge.

Asthma usually is treated with two types of inhaled medicines. One is used every day to reduce inflammation in the airways. The second, known as an emergency or rescue inhaler, is used when breathing becomes difficult. It opens blocked airways quickly.

In addition, the doctor will want to figure out what things trigger the asthma-related cough, and how those things can be avoided.

Sources: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; American Lung Association




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Lisa Finn