A staccato cough is essentially a cough that comes as a series of outbursts with time for at least one breath in between each one. People cough once, then pause, then cough again, often over and over again. The coughs can be either dry or wet, and may or may not involve phlegm. Some of the most common causes include Chlamydia pneumonia and respiratory infections and allergies. Almost anyone can get this sort of cough, and depending on the cause it may go away on its own. It’s often particularly concerning in children and infants, however, and in these cases healthcare experts usually recommend getting medical attention immediately in order to prevent the development of a number of potentially life-threatening conditions. Getting an official diagnosis is usually the only way to distinguish between really serious and more minor causes, and as such is a necessary first step in effective treatment for adults and kids alike.
The term “staccato” comes from music and refers to notes that are played with enough time between each one that they’re seemingly unconnected. The separation between coughs is one of the most defining features of this condition. It’s usually more common for someone to cough multiple times in one bout, often somewhat uncontrollably. In a staccato situation, however, a person may cough five or six times, but with a marked pause between each one. There’s usually at least enough time to catch a breath, and often long enough to say a few words or engage in limited conversation.
Like any cough, the staccato cough is an involuntary physical reflex a person uses to clear the lungs and throat of any obstruction. It can be loud or quiet, messy with phlegm and mucus or relatively dry — a lot depends on what exactly is causing it. It’s usually really different in both sound and function from other types of coughs, though, such as the barky cough that usually results from an inflamed larynx, the wheezes that frequently indicate asthma, or a paroxysmal shudder that often is symptomatic of bronchiolitis.
Most Common Causes
This type of cough is most frequently associated with Chlamydia pneumonia, an airborne organism that affects and inflames the delicate tissues of the lungs. It is not related to the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia, though the organisms that cause each do have a lot in common, at least on a cellular level. When it presents as a pneumonia, it is a strictly respiratory infection that is caused by breathing air laced with sputum from an infected person and does not require any person-to-person contact. This sort of cough can also be associated with whooping cough and other respiratory infections, particularly those that have been latent in a person’s body for quite some time. Whooping cough almost always has at its core a wheezing, gravelly cough, but it can come in a spaced fashion from time to time.
Special Concerns for Children
This sort of cough can be annoying in adults, but it’s often considered dangerous in young children, particularly babies. Most childhood coughs are sequential, and noticing outbursts that are spaced far apart can be a sign that the child is having trouble breathing. Additionally, ailments like Chlamydia pneumonia are often much more serious in babies than they are in older people, and often require prolonged hospital stays. In most cases, the faster this sort of problem is identified the better the outcome is likely to be.
Importance of a Proper Diagnosis
Getting a proper diagnosis from a qualified heath care professional is, in most cases, the best way forward. This is especially true when it comes to pediatrics. In children the specific type of cough the child is suffering matters greatly. This is because both causes and treatments for adult coughs are different from those of children. Additionally, a staccato cough can indicate one kind of disease that a barking cough doesn't, and treating the wrong ailment can be not just ineffective but also harmful, depending on the specifics.
Most physicians start by listening to the cough, but consider the sound and the spacing alongside other symptoms like fever, runny nose, and phlegm. A person’s medical history is also important. Some coughs can be treated at home, but getting a professional and personalized opinion usually yields the best results, particularly when the condition has been going on for some time or seems to be getting worse.
Treatment Options and Home Remedies
People often try to treat their own coughs at home before seeking medical help, and as long as there isn’t a fever attached or any other cause for alarm this can be a good idea. Drinking a lot of non-caffeinated, non-acidic fluids is usually recommended; hot showers, humidifiers, and cough syrups or drops can help as well. Over-the-counter cough medicine can also be of some use, but isn’t usually recommended for children without the advice of a doctor or other care provider.