If you’ve had to describe a cough to your doctor, you know how hard it is. Learn how to describe a cough and why it’s so difficult.
In this article:
- Describing a Cough Is Difficult
- Classifying Coughs
- Identifying Coughs
- The Problem With Coughs
- Technology and How to Describe a Cough
How to Describe a Cough When Talking to Your Doctor
Describing a Cough Is Difficult
Language somehow is not sufficient to describe a cough. Have you ever tried to replicate a sound you heard or describe it to someone? It’s not that easy.
As humans, we understand words and sounds that we can make with our mouths. It’s fine in day to day life, but it does tend to pose a problem when we are trying to describe a cough.
When we visit the doctor with a rash or other visible symptoms, it is easy for them to diagnose the problem. However, very often, we must describe a cough to our medical professionals, either for ourselves or a family member – and this can be surprisingly hard to do.
The coronavirus is currently raging across the planet, with a persistent cough being one of the primary indicators of the illness. This point alone makes it vital to identify and learn how to describe a cough as best as we can.
Doctors use some universal terminology to describe a cough that helps us identify and describe a cough.
In general, we can differentiate four coughs:
- Dry – A type of cough that is not accompanied by mucus or phlegm.
- Wet or Productive – The kind of cough that produces mucus or phlegm. Your chest may feel tight or sound rattly when you breathe.
- Acute – A cough that lasts less than three weeks.
- Chronic – A cough that lasts more than four weeks in children and eight weeks in adults.
RELATED: Why Do We Cough?
Describing what the cough sounds like alongside accompanying symptoms, can often help doctors in their diagnosis of an illness.
For example, a harsh, hacking cough with a whooping sound when inhaling can describe Whooping Cough (Pertussis.) Centre for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the sound of Pertussis as follows:
“Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, repeatedly until the air is gone from your lungs. When there is no more air in the lungs, you are forced to inhale with a loud ‘whooping’ sound. This extreme coughing can cause you to throw up and be very tired.”
Alternatively, a dry and irritating cough that becomes wet as the illness progresses, along with discolored mucus, is an indicator of Pneumonia. Whereas, the inflamed airways and excessive mucus production from asthma make breathing difficult and manifest in either a wet or dry cough that ends with a wheezing sound.
A persistent (chronic) cough from inflamed lungs and restricted airways may be symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). You can describe it as a hacking, wet cough with a substantial amount of mucus. It often goes hand-in-hand with wheezing, shortness of breath, and a tight chest.
A sporadic dry or wet cough that becomes worse in the evening may be symptoms of post-nasal drip. Furthermore, painful, barking sounds can be an indication of croup.
The Problem With Describing a Cough
While we can identify many illnesses by an accurate description of a cough, it’s not a fool-proof diagnosis.
The results of a 2006 study on the language used when describing a cough to assess the accuracy of their assessment compared to acoustic analysis confirmed this.
According to researchers, identifying clinical diagnosis from cough was poor at 34.0%. They also added, “Cluster analysis showed coughs with the same acoustics properties rather than the same diagnoses attracted the same descriptions.”
In other words, participants used the way a cough sounds rather than the properties to diagnose an illness.
The study concluded that healthcare professionals recognized some qualities of a cough. However, they rarely made an accurate diagnosis on that basis.
Luckily, a lot has changed since the article was published.
Technology and How to Describe a Cough
Big data, AI and machine learning have given us some incredibly useful information in recent years. Especially so in identifying and tracking the cough.
Data scientist Joe Brew makes a thought-provoking comment in his article on what a cough looks like. He says, “Converting the sound of a cough to a visual representation allows for the use of advanced image recognition techniques. This has applications not only in differentiating between a cough and background noise, but also potentially in using each cough’s acoustic signature to understand better the health of the person who coughs. By teaching AI how to distinguish between a cough and ambient noise, we can track cough frequency over time and space.”
He adds that humans describe a cough in simplified terms like ‘wet’ or ‘dry’. On the other hand, a machine can generate categories far beyond our abilities. For example, a computer can detect features undetectable by humans. Additionally, language doesn’t limit such a device.
Essentially, words can’t accurately translate how a cough sounds. Words can’t sufficiently describe the frequency, tone, volume, duration, and other invisible attributes to the same extent. A machine can make a much more accurate diagnosis.
Artificial intelligence built into the Hyfe app tracks the invisible elements of a cough. Then, it translates this information into usable data for health care professionals to download and interpret.
Now, you don’t have to learn how to describe your cough to your doctor.
Have you experienced any difficulties when trying to describe a cough? Let us know in the comment section!