A rattling cough is a condition which causes a rustling, rattling, or wheezing sound in the chest or throat accompanied by a chronic cough. The troublesome noises are generally caused by mucus accumulation in the chest or by sinus drainage into the throat. There are various illnesses which can cause rattling cough symptoms, including influenza, the common cold, pneumonia, and bronchitis. Other less common causes including viruses like pertussis, also called whooping cough.
In many cases, a rattling cough is nothing to worry about. The common cold often causes congestion in the throat or chest which can result in wheezing or rustling in the chest. Influenza is another common cause of rattling cough symptoms. It is not life threatening for most sufferers, although some members of the population are at risk of serious complications. The elderly, pregnant women, children under two years of age, and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable. Very rarely, complications may arise in vulnerable persons.
Occasionally, a rattling cough can signal a serious health condition. Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, is a condition which often occurs as the result of a less threatening illness which fails to heal, such as influenza. Large amounts of mucus may form and block airways. Breathing becomes labored and medical intervention is generally needed.
There are both “wet” and “dry” forms of rattling cough. “Wet” coughs are usually accompanied by mucus, which comes up through the throat and into the mouth during coughing spells. “Dry” coughs do not produce mucus, but the rattling sounds are still present deep inside the chest. This may require medication to loosen the mucus so that it can be effectively expelled.
Treatment for rattling cough will depend on the underlying cause. Viruses can only be destroyed by the body's immune system, but medication may be beneficial for alleviating symptoms. Bacterial infections can often be treated with antibiotics. Breathing can be aided in severe cases using oxygen or ventilators.
A rattling cough should always be checked out by a doctor, especially when it occurs in the elderly or in very young children. Influenza, pertussis, and pneumonia are potentially life threatening for infants and immediate medical care is needed to prevent complications. Parents or family members should take their loved ones to the doctor if coughing lasts more than a week without any signs of improvement, the person seems to have trouble breathing, or if the person stops eating.