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Cough variant asthma is a form of asthma characterized by an unproductive dry cough. The patient does not experience the classic wheezing and whistling breath sounds associated with asthma, which can be confusing for people who are diagnosed with this condition as they may think that it is not possible to have asthma without wheezing. The lack of wheezing also makes cough variant asthma challenging to diagnose, as it cannot be diagnosed simply by listening to a patient's lungs.
Some signs that someone has cough variant asthma include a dry cough which persists for at least six weeks, along with things like color changes after coughing fits. Patients typically cough more at night, and the coughing may become so disruptive that the patient has trouble sleeping or is kept awake by the coughing. The cough is also not productive. The patient does not bring up mucus, and often does not feel better after coughing, indicating that the patient is not coughing in an attempt to clear the airway.
Classic tests used to check lung function, such as spirometry and x-rays, may reveal nothing unusual about the patient, and the lungs may sound normal when listened to. Sometimes a doctor can identify cough variant asthma by listening to the patient cough and by conducting a detailed patient interview; often, patient history reveals important information which can be used in a diagnosis. To confirm the diagnosis, a metacholine challenge can be administered. In this medical test, the patient undergoes spirometry, inhales a metacholine mist, and takes the spirometry test again. If the patient has asthma, the airway should be constricted.
This condition can appear in people of all ages, but it is especially common among children. Cough variant asthma can also develop into classic asthma over time, with the patient progressively getting worse and experiencing symptoms such as wheezing or asthma attacks, in which the airways close altogether in response to stress, allergens, or other factors.
Cough variant asthma can be treated with the use of inhaled medications. Albuterol can be used to keep the airways open, and the patient may also be given inhaled steroids to keep inflammation down. If the patient does not respond to inhaled medications, oral prednisone may be given. Well managed asthma also requires regular visits to the doctor to check on lung function and adjust medications if necessary. If patients fail to comply with a medication regimen or do not attend regular checkups, their asthma may get out of control, and the patient could experience severe complications.