You can tell a lot about a disease based on the cough that accompanies it. Doctors may ask you about the timing and intensity of your cough. They may also ask what factors seem to worsen or alleviate it. But, one of the most significant and telling characteristics of a cough is how it sounds. While laboratory tests still have to be done, the sound associated with a cough is a crucial first clue in determining what the problem may be. Here are some of the usual cough sounds and diseases that usually go hand in hand with them.
Why do we cough?
Almost everyone has experienced a cough at some point in life. You cough to clear your throat whenever you feel something is “stuck”. You may also just cough out of habit whenever you are nervous. But, more often than not, a cough is usually one of the symptoms of an underlying disease. While many diseases may manifest with a cough, one way to distinguish one from the other is by listening to how the cough sounds.
How do we describe a cough?
You may describe a cough in terms of behavior, characteristics, duration, effects, and grade. Here is a more detailed explanation of these:
- Behavior or experience – What triggers the cough? Does it happen more often at night, after waking up, or after exercise?
- Characteristics – Is the cough wet or dry?
- Duration – How long does your cough last? A few days or several weeks?
- Effects – Whenever you cough, do you experience other symptoms like urinary incontinence, vomiting, or sleeplessness?
- Grade – How intense is the cough? Is it annoying, persistent, or debilitating?
These helpful clues will help your doctor arrive at the proper diagnosis. So, when you visit the doctor, you must describe your symptoms as best as you can.
How do diseases influence how cough sounds like?
Apart from those characteristics, the way a cough sounds can be a helpful clue in determining what is causing it. Here are the most common cough sounds and the diseases they are usually associated with:
- Dry cough – This cough usually does not produce mucus and can make your throat feel sore. Possible causes: asthma, sore throat, sinusitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and COVID-19.
- Wet cough – Also called a “productive cough,” this cough produces mucus. It is associated with a lung infection. Usually manifests as a symptom of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Uncontrollable cough – Known as a “paroxysmal” cough. It occurs in bursts and fits. It is commonly associated with pertussis (whooping cough), asthma, pneumonia, and COPD.
- Barking cough – This cough sounds “coarse and wet.” The air passing through a swollen airway produces its distinctive seal-like sound. It is commonly associated with pertussis.
Knowing the different cough sounds can help you understand more about your condition. So, if you do develop a cough, such knowledge may help you become aware of its seriousness and whether or not you should see a doctor.
What should I do if I experience these cough sounds?
In any case, the best thing to do is not to panic. Assess the situation. Suppose you can do your daily activities and work without much discomfort. In that case, you can probably manage this cough at home. Drinking plenty of fluids and getting an adequate amount of rest can help alleviate symptoms.
However, suppose your cough prevents you from working and leaves you bedridden. In that case, you may be dealing with a more severe condition. In addition, there is more cause for concern if your cough comes with fever, vomiting, nausea, aches, and pains, or other symptoms, possibly pointing to COVID-19. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor right away.
Remember that even if you are vaccinated, it is still possible to get infected with COVID-19. Staying at home and reporting any symptoms you may be experiencing can protect not only your family members but also your community.