Last updated January 29, 2019.
Most everyone has a general idea of what asthma is, or at least the different signs of it. But did you know there is something called cough variant asthma? In fact, there’s a chance you might know someone who has it but has never been properly diagnosed. To keep you informed, we’re going to take a closer look this unique asthma type that is quite common in children. We’ll examine cough variant asthma symptoms such as chronic dry cough, the various cough variant asthma treatments for adults and kids, and cough variant asthma natural treatments you can use in the comfort of your own home.
Causes and Complications of Cough Variant Asthma
Cough variant asthma is pretty specific and is easily noticeable in young children. Much like classic asthma, the true causes of cough variant asthma are currently unknown; however, it does seem to appear during upper respiratory infections, following contact with allergens, and among those who have started taking beta blockers (a medication often used for those dealing with heart disease, migraines, and high blood pressure).
The cough will essentially have the same characteristics as traditional asthma, in that the breathing tubes (bronchi) will react to irritation by spasming, or squeezing into a smaller size. The cough will also be nonproductive, producing no phlegm or mucus.
Kids with cough variant asthma may have a cough caused by the common cold, acute bronchitis (a chest cold), or another upper respiratory infection that doesn’t seem to go away. This cough will continue long after the initial virus has disappeared—for at least four weeks in children and eight weeks in adults. Cough medicine will also not work on this cough. And if untreated, cough variant asthma can come with some complications including sleep disruption, hoarseness and sore throat, and headaches.
Risk factors that can increase your chances of getting cough variant asthma include:
- Having allergies
- Being overweight
- Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
- Exposure to environmental irritants
- Having asthma or a family history of asthma
While cough variant asthma often doesn’t share symptoms of asthma such as wheezing or shortness of breath, it can become classic asthma. In fact, approximately 30% to 40% of adults that suffer from cough variant asthma will develop classic asthma. Cough variant asthma can also cause the body to be more sensitive to allergens, leading the sufferer to develop allergies they did not previously have.
If you think you may be suffering from cough variant asthma, the next step is to get it diagnosed.
Diagnosing Cough Variant Asthma
You have a persistent cough that does not improve, no matter what you do or the brand cough syrup you take. It seems to linger for weeks after whatever it was that caused it has gone away. Time to go to the doctor to get diagnosed. But how does a doctor determine if you have cough variant asthma as opposed to a stubborn cough?
Unfortunately, many of the tests used for asthma may not work for diagnosing cough variant asthma. Physical exams, chest X-rays, and even spirometry (a test designed to diagnose classic asthma that rates how much air you can exhale) may not reveal cough variant asthma. If that’s the case, the next step is to take a methacholine challenge test. This test requires the patient to inhale an increasing amount of methacholine aerosol mist before and after a spirometry test. If your lung function drops by 20%, unfortunately, this most likely means asthma or cough variant asthma is present.
After diagnosing the cough variant asthma, you can move onward to treatment.
Natural Treatments for Cough Variant Asthma
With cough variant asthma, there are multiple treatment routes you can take, and a few of them are natural treatments. If you are unsure of how these natural remedies may interact with any medications you may be taking, consult your doctor first before trying them. And as with any herbal remedy,you should also be mindful of any potential allergies.
Some promising cough variant asthma natural treatments include:
Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapple that is used for both classic asthma and cough variant asthma as a way to relieve the airways. It may act as a natural antihistamine, reducing inflammation and swelling caused by allergens. You can either eat pineapple fruit or take supplements in pill form.
Boswellia serrata, more commonly known as frankincense, is a herb that can potentially relieve the symptoms of asthma. Beta-boswellic acid is the major active compound found within, and studies suggest it can inhibit the function of proinflammatory molecules such as leukotrienes.
Boswellia can be taken alone in extract form or mixed into tea. Best possible results will occur if taken on a regular basis, specifically 300 to 400 milligrams three times a day for six weeks.
3. Mullein Oil
Mullein oil comes from both the thick and leafy common mullein and wavyleaf mullein plants. Saponins in the oil are thought to help soothe bronchial airways, while thinning and clearing mucus.
Try adding about three drops of mullein oil to a large pot of boiling water. Hold your head over the pot (at a safe distance) and inhale the steam slowly for about 10 minutes.
These natural treatments should help relieve the symptoms of cough variant asthma, but in the case that they don’t, there are medical treatments that may be able to help.
Honey has shown to be a useful nighttime cough suppressant that can help ease asthma symptoms. Researchers from UCLA suggest taking two teaspoons of honey at bedtime to help trigger saliva production to lubricate airways. Lubricated airways may make it easier to breathe and prevent coughs by breaking up mucus.
Overall, the research supporting the use of honey for asthma is mixed, so it’s best to test it out for yourself. If you’ve been having trouble with coughing and breathing overnight, perhaps try mixing a couple of tablespoons of honey into a glass of water.
Lifestyle Changes for Cough Variant Asthma
1. Quit Smoking
Smoking plays a substantial role in the function of your lungs, risk for cough, and your overall breathing. If you smoke, you’re putting excess stress on your lungs, especially if you have asthma. Tobacco smoke is a known and powerful asthma trigger because it leads to irritant substances settling in your airways. Finding ways to quit smoking can reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks, so look into options that can work for you.
2. Exercise Safely
Staying fit and healthy is beneficial for overall health and cardiovascular capacity; however, vigorous exercise can create a dangerous situation for asthmatics. Exercising with asthma requires knowing your limits to avoid a flare-up and sticking to a pace and workload that you can sustain without suffering an asthma attack.
It’s important to talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.
Medical Treatments for Cough Variant Asthma
Sometimes, natural treatments for cough variant asthma aren’t as effective on their own and must be used alongside conventional methods. There are two common medical treatments, and one of them may even be used to help diagnose cough variant asthma.
Corticosteroid inhalers are one of the most common and effective ways to treat coughs and shortness of breath related to asthma. This medication helps to control coughing, prevent wheezing, and limit airway obstruction in people with cough variant asthma. You will need a prescription to acquire an inhaler, and once you get one, you’ll need to use it according to a physician’s direction.
This medication might also confirm the diagnosis of asthma or cough variant asthma if it works.
Nebulizers are machines that create a mist of medicine that is breathed through a mask or mouthpiece. In some circumstances, a doctor will prescribe one to treat cough variant asthma. A nebulizer is generally far less convenient that an inhaler, as most are not easily portable and require about 10 minutes of sitting still to properly administer the correct medicinal dosage.
Doctors may also recommend placing a humidifier in your room to help relieve congestion and clear the airways.
Cough Variant Asthma Can Be Hidden
The problem with cough variant asthma is that it is easy to miss. It usually develops simultaneously with, or at the tail-end of, some other medical issue like a cold or an upper bronchial infection. It also hides from tests that would normally detect classic asthma. And finally, many people just aren’t aware of it.
It is important to recognize the telltale symptom of cough variant asthma: a chronic, nonproductive cough, and that there are natural tools to help relieve some of the symptoms and issues that come with it. If you can effectively manage cough variant asthma, it is less likely to turn into classic asthma.
Fletcher, J., “Cough Variant Asthma: Symptoms, Triggers, and Treatment,” Medical News Today, November 16, 2016; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314142.php.
“Cough Variant Asthma,” WebMD; http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/cough-variant-asthma#1
“Cough Variant Asthma Treatment, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis,” Tips Curing Disease; http://www.tipdisease.com/2013/10/cough-variant-asthma-treatment-causes.html
Wilson, D., “Can Honey Treat Asthma?” Healthline, March 17, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/health/asthma/honey-for-asthma, last accessed January 18, 2019.
Duggal, N., “What You Should Know about Cough Variant Asthma,” Healthline, April 7, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/health/cough-variant-asthma, last accessed January 18, 2019.
“Smoking and Asthma,” The Cleveland Clinic, April 22, 2017; https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4584-smoking—asthma, last accessed January 18, 2019.
Evans, J., “Breathing Treatments: Which One Works Best?” Healthline, October 16, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-treatment, last accessed January 18, 2019.
Fletcher, J., “What is cough variant asthma?” Medical News Today, August 23, 2018; https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314142.php, last accessed January 18, 2019.
“4 of the Best Asthma Home Remedies,” University Health News Daily, March 20, 2018; https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/copd/one-of-the-best-asthma-home-remedies-boswellia-extract/, last accessed January 21, 2019.
Schaefer, A., “The 4 Best Natural Antihistamines,” Healthline, September 14, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/best-natural-antihistamines#bromelain, last accessed January 22, 2019.