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What is Cough-Variant Asthma?

What is cough variant asthma?

Cough-variant asthma is a type of asthma in which the main symptom is a dry cough that is non-productive (i.e. it does not bring up any mucus). Typically, people with cough-variant asthma will not experience the other classic asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath.

Cough-variant asthma is not a term which is used widely in the UK, which is why you may find it difficult to track down information on this topic through sites such as the NHS and Asthma UK. However, there is not a great deal that distinguishes cough-variant asthma from the normal kind – apart from the prevalent symptoms. For this reason, it should be treated in the same manner as normal asthma.


What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition in which the airways of the lungs are sensitive and easily irritated. The sensitive airways can be “triggered” by things like exercise, illness and stress. They can also be triggered after coming into contact with certain substances such as pollen or dust mites. When the airways are set off by these triggers, they become irritated and inflamed. The airways narrow, the muscles in the chest tighten and the lungs produce more phlegm.

The main symptoms these things cause are:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Feeling breathless
  • Feeling tightness in the chest

A sudden, severe onset of these symptoms is known as an asthma attack. When the symptoms flare up and it becomes difficult to breathe or stop coughing or wheezing, a reliever inhaler (usually Ventolin) is used. This contains medicine that opens the airways in the lungs, making it easier to breathe.

Another treatment for asthma is a preventer inhaler, which is used every single day. Preventers contain medicine (usually steroids) that helps to soothe the sensitivity of the airways, meaning they react less easily to triggers.


What causes an asthma cough?

The most well known symptoms of asthma are wheezing and feeling breathless, but a cough is also very common – particularly if you suffer from cough-variant asthma.

People who have asthma may cough for two reasons. Firstly, the lungs produce more phlegm when the airways become irritated. The coughing helps to bring some of this phlegm up and thereby clear the airways.

However, an asthma cough can also simply be a response to the irritation of the airways. For most people with asthma, the coughing is worst at night, which can make it difficult to sleep and cause ongoing fatigue in the daylight hours. The cough is also normally accompanied by high-pitched wheezing, which indicates the narrowing of the airways.


What is the difference between cough-variant asthma and normal asthma?

The main difference, as previously stated, is that cough-variant asthma is characterised by a dry cough that does not bring up mucus, and that is not accompanied by wheezing or other symptoms.

Another difference between the two is that cough-variant asthma may be harder to diagnose than regular asthma. This is because of the absence of other symptoms, and because there are many conditions that can cause a dry cough.

If you are suffering from a persistent dry cough that has lasted for more than 3 weeks, you should seek medical advice.

Causes of a persistent cough other than asthma include:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Allergies
  • Smoking
  • Indigestion
  • Medication

When you visit your doctor, they may carry out tests for lung function and to see whether you are allergic to anything. They may ask if you notice the cough becoming worse after exercise or when you are exposed to poor weather conditions. These are both signs that the cough is asthma-related.


What is the treatment for cough-variant asthma?

The treatment for cough-variant asthma will vary depending upon the severity of the condition. If you are diagnosed with cough-variant asthma, you will be prescribed a reliever inhaler to help treat your symptom when it flares up. You may also be prescribed a preventer inhaler to use daily. This will help prevent your airways from reacting to triggers in the future.

If you have been diagnosed with asthma, you can easily order preventer and reliever inhalers through our online asthma clinic. Simply fill out a short medical questionnaire and one of our doctors will check through your answers to make sure you are suitable for treatment. Our inhalers are available for free same-day collection, free standard delivery and paid next day delivery. Visit our online asthma clinic to find out more.