Living With a Chronic Cough (Cough Variant Asthma)

photo of a woman covering her mouth with the title Living With a Chronic Cough: Cough Variant Asthma

What did one casket say to the other casket?

–Is that you coffin?

“You don’t have pneumonia, do you?”

“Oh my God, are you okay?”

I can’t remember the last time I went a whole day without coughing.  I think it was when I was pregnant with Bud.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I went an hour without coughing.  But don’t worry, I’m not contagious (as so many people ask).  I have a chronic cough (also called cough variant asthma).

According to WebMD:

Cough-variant asthma is a type of asthma in which the main symptom is a dry, non-productive cough. (A non-productive cough does not expel any mucus from the respiratory tract.) People with cough-variant asthma often have no other “classic” asthma symptoms, such as wheezing or shortness of breath.

Cough-variant asthma is sometimes called chronic cough to describe a cough that has lasted longer than six to eight weeks.

©2012, WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved

I guess you could say I’ve always had “twitchy” lungs, having had multiple bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia over the years.  But sometime in my early adulthood, a cough I developed during a bad cold just never went away.  I went through years of different inhaled steroids and short-acting inhalers, decongestants and antihistamines.  Some helped, but not that much.

photo of a woman coughing in foreground with three disinterested men in the background

Some rights reserved by amyf

Five or six years ago I blossomed into full-blown asthma.  I still have the cough every day, but sometimes, if my airways are particularly annoyed, I can feel my airways tightening until I feel like a fish out of water, gasping for air.  This is not a particularly pleasant sight for anyone who knows me, either.  People tend to panic when someone they know is obviously not breathing (which means not talking – let’s be honest – barely communicating).

Over the years my friends, family and I have developed some helpful tips which might help you when dealing with a loved one with asthma and/or a chronic cough:

  1. I will signal, in some way, if I am not okay.  Please don’t keep asking me.  Honestly, as long as I am coughing, no matter how horrible it may sound, I am still breathing.
  2. If I do signal that I am not okay, please don’t panic.  It is very scary for the person who can’t breathe.  It doesn’t help anyone if we both panic.
  3. My inhaler is in the front pocket of my purse. Hand it to me, or, if I am passed out (hasn’t happened yet), then please call 911 and follow their instructions.
  4. I am not doing this to be annoying.  I will get up and leave if I can’t get the cough under control, otherwise I will try to save it for loud moments of the movie.
  5. Many things can set me off.  Try to ask me in advance if I am allergic to any foods you might be serving, or let me know if the show we will be attending will have a smoke machine or the store we’re shopping at has lots of unusual smells (like Bed, Bath and Beyond).
  6. Don’t treat me like I’m breakable.  I can work out and hike and scuba dive, and do most all the other things you can do, just slower and with more stops to catch my breath.

If you have asthma, or know someone who does, do you have any tips?  If so, please leave them in the comment section below.

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2 thoughts on “Living With a Chronic Cough (Cough Variant Asthma)

  1. Hi, I have had this for years and years. Got rid of it for two years but then it crept back. I am so sick of meds that don’t help and am tempted to go off all. My respirologist has given up and just states it is trial and error. The only time I don’t cough is when asleep. Can you tell me if any meds helped you? I have been treated with GERD and postnasal and singulair and alvesco and reactine, which worked for two years, but then stopped. Then he switched the alvesco to zenhale which didn’t help and now asmanex which doesn’t help. They also incraesed the GERD med nexium, which seemed to help for two weeks and stopped. I give up. Any advice? I don’t go an hour without coughing, day after day, week after week. It’s not just stress because we just came back from a wonderful cruise and I coughed there too. I don’t smoke.

    1. Hi Nancy, I am so sorry to hear that you are having to deal with this as well. So far I haven’t found anything to take the cough away. I have tried most all the medications you have. Currently I an on Qvar and albuterol but I also have nebulizer if it gets really bad. I have found that if I keep my sinuses clear the cough is much less and if I take 2 sudafed and a guaifenisin before a big event I can keep myself from coughing for an hour or more. Unfortunately, I have high blood pressure, so I can’t stay on that stuff all the time. I wish you much luck in finding a solution and if you do, please come back and share!!

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