A rattling cough, so named because the lungs seems to "rattle" from the effort, is a wet-sounding, non-productive cough. This type of cough commonly follows pneumonia, bronchitis, the flu or a particularly severe bout of the common cold. Rattling coughs sound as if the lungs are filled with mucus or fluids, but nothing is expelled by the cough. The patient often feels exhausted from the effort. While rattling coughs may be caused by a variety of diseases or disorders, the true cause lies in the inflammation of the lungs.
Within the lungs are small clusters of cells. When inflamed by a virus, bacteria or allergen, the cells enlarge, become red and inflamed, and may produce mucus. The lung's automatic response for this inflammation is to cough. A rattling cough is a deep cough in which the lungs attempt to expel mucus or reduce inflammation, to no avail. These types of coughs often persist long after the patient has recovered from his or her ailment.
In most cases, such rattling coughs are not serious. They are the lungs' natural response to inflammation, and the coughing frequency usually subsides as the inflammation reduces. A chronic rattling cough, however, is indicative of a more serious disorder. Allergens or a deeply rooted bacterial infection may instigate a chronic cough. All coughs accompanied by a fever, lasting more than three days or associated with heart palpitations should be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Rattling coughs may be the remnants of a congestive illness, such as bronchitis or influenza. When the cause of an infection is viral, such as in influenza, antibiotics will not be effective. But certain remedies and treatments such as steam treatment from vaporizers, humidifiers or even a hot shower may reduce symptoms and provide some relief.
Cough expectorants may help the lungs eject mucus, but these products may exacerbate the inflammation by encouraging more coughing and mucus production. In some cases, a doctor may suggest a cough suppressant at night to allow the patient a brief respite from the constant and exhausting coughing efforts. Never distribute cough medications to children under 12 years of age without the advice of a medical professional.
Most rattling coughs resolve on their own. Rest, fluids, steam therapy and a healthy diet help expedite wellness. Since a rattling cough can be very tiring, especially if followed by a severe illness, the patient may need an extended period of rest to speed healing and prevent additional complications. It is important to consult with a doctor for rattling coughs that do not reduce over time.