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What is Cough Variant Asthma?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Dec 09, 2014

My nephew has cough variant asthma and he was misdiagnosed at first. He started coughing around the same time that he had a cold. So when the cold went away and his cough remained, he pediatrician thought that he may be coughing out of habit. Apparently, this happens with some children who cough due to emotional reasons, because they yearn for the attention they receive from loved ones while ill.

But the cough did not go away and my nephew was more fatigued than usual. So he went to a specialist who gave him the asthma test. He tested positive and was prescribed medication. He has been doing much, much better since then. He only coughs occasionally.

By bluedolphin — On Dec 09, 2014

I think the reason that cough variant asthma is difficult to diagnose is also because very few people have heard of it. It's not as common as the other form of asthma. And there are also other causes of recurrent dry cough, and many that are even more serious than asthma like pneumonia or cancer. So asthma is usually one of the last thing that comes to mind.

I know that if I had a recurrent cough for months, I'd either assume allergies or something very, very serious.

By burcinc — On Dec 08, 2014

Although I was not officially diagnosed with it. I believe I had cough variant asthma for some time. I had to live in a house for a few months which had a serious dust and mold problem. I started coughing as soon as I moved in and coughed every day for two months while I lived there. It was a dry, unproductive cough just as the article described.

I moved out of the house two months later and my cough disappeared altogether after a few days. In fact, my mom had started to question whether I had become allergic to my newly adopted cat. But the fact that I stopped coughing after leaving the house showed that the allergen was in the house. It was either dust or mold.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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