How Do You Describe Your Cough?

I was at a recent follow-up appointment trying to find relief for an especially challenging cough. A medical professional recently asked me to describe my cough as part of a follow-up appointment. I am not sure I have been asked that question before or at least in that particular way. It took me a moment to formulate a response. Although, it was part of a larger context of symptoms and experiences.

I was stunned that I was suddenly seemed lost for words. This had me running through the list of words that I might use to describe it.

Describing my cough

Some of the things that I came up with were:

  • Barkey
  • Squeak
  • Rough
  • Dry
  • Productive
  • Ticklish
  • Painful
  • Echoey
  • Quiet

This list is definitely not extensive but I would like to know what your thoughts are. Have you been asked to describe your cough before? What words or sounds would you use to describe your cough? Have you ever been stumped for words?

What is the purpose of describing my cough?

I realized that what I was describing was either the way that the cough sounds, made me feel, or its purpose. Would it not have been simple to just ask me to cough? Having been put on the spot by the fellow to describe my cough, this was the best I could do. I was able to reproduce the sound. I am a good cougher and a wheezer, so I was happy to do a reenactment for them. While this still may not have answered the "describe your cough" question, I hope it at least got me closer.

What I realized, is that the question may have also been part of a poorly phrased question and less about “What is your cough like?" than trying to get to know how I feel when I cough and questioning if the cough is productive. These questions may lead to better information being extracted from the patients and essentially a better doctor-patient interaction.

Asthma cough vs other coughs

After what felt like a failed conversation with the fellow regarding my cough, I did an internet search once I got home about the common questions asked about coughing. These ranged from "What does lung cancer cough sound like?" to "What does a pneumonia cough sound like?" to "What does a bronchitis cough sound like?" and, of course, "What does an asthma cough sound like?"

I personally have responded to concerned looks from strangers when I have coughed near them, with the simple response, “It is asthma, not a cold." It is true that the main purposes of cough are to remove germs and debris and clear the airways. In relation to an asthma cough, it is also a response to stimuli that may cause irritation (allergens) or induce spasm.

I suppose the main purpose of the fellow even asking this question may be to get a better sense of what the purpose of my cough was and what was driving it. After an additional round of questioning on a different day and many diagnostics, we concluded that it was a combination of inflammation and mucus plugging that was driving my cough. Think I would still describe it as “productive” and “barkey." I am looking forward to hearing how you describe your cough!

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