cough sound diagnosis

A cough used to be an innocuous gesture, one that a healthcare provider could easily assess as a symptom of a common cold or a product of a more severe lung disorder. However, during this pandemic, a simple cough can cause much anxiety and paranoia as it can be a sign of COVID-19. In this article, we will explore the potential of the cough sound for diagnosis and monitoring.

The quality of one’s cough can also provide some insight into the disease that afflicts a person. Understanding how different kinds of cough sound, may prove to be a helpful tool in the diagnosis and a medium by which we can monitor the disease’s progression.

Different cough sounds and what they mean for diagnosis?

Depending on the symptoms accompanying the cough, they may point to a myriad of lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), and even COVID-19). 

  • Wet cough
    • Also known as a productive cough
    • Produces mucus from the airway, thus sounding “wet” as it moves in the airway
  • Dry cough
    • Does not involve mucus and is often caused by an inflamed airway
  • Paroxysmal cough
    • An exhausting and painful cough with intermittent, violent attacks of uncontrollable coughing
  • Whooping cough
    • Commonly associated with pertussis
    • Due to a bacterial infection that causes people to inhale violently, producing a “whooping” sound
  • Croup
    • Usually affects children less than five years old
    • Causes a characteristic “barking” sound

Evolving Technology

While your doctor’s clinical expertise is still the primary basis for diagnosis and management, a growing body of research supports the efficacy of diagnostics that can analyze cough sounds with some success. For example, one study reported that analysis of cough sounds provides some value as a rapid and simple screening tool. However, it performed lower than a clinical questionnaire and peak flow meter test, which are commonly used tools. Another study supports the validity of a cough monitor in detecting and discriminating the patient’s cough from that of the environment or other people coughing in the surroundings. Lastly, voluntary cough sounds have been found to have some diagnostic value as a practical screening tool, particularly helpful in low-cost settings. 

What does the future hold? 

Diagnostic and monitoring technology for cough is slowly but surely gaining ground. In other words, there is surely great potential for using the cough sound in diagnosis and monitoring. During this pandemic, it would be wise to be vigilant of one’s health and others around us. Let us continue to observe social distancing measures, wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, and continue wearing masks. Through these measures, we can do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19

Click on the following links to learn more about cough sounds, when to seek help, and promising research on cough analysis

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