My Cough is Not Contagious: The Asthma Cough

“When’d you get that cough?” My grandma asked as I recounted in a blog post six years ago.
My mom replied, “Oh, about two years ago.”

It doesn’t really matter how well I feel like I am breathing, my cough is pretty much always there. It gets better and worse depending on how my asthma is, but, an at least mild cough is just part of my reality now—I don’t really notice it unless, like right now, I’m given reason to think about it. Sure, I’ve become instinctively familiar with my iPhone’s mute function to not annoy everybody on a conference call, for example, but I know my “healthy” cough and how it differs when my asthma flares up, or when I am sick. For me, maybe it’s partly an issue of asthma control, but, it’s not like I have not tried every medication out there, and take an inhaled steroid in addition to my combination inhaler. And I can’t just take my rescue inhaler every single time I cough because that probably wouldn’t solve anything anyways.

The cough is just a thing now. I probably haven’t had a day where I haven’t coughed in the last eight years since my asthma diagnosis. The nice(-ish, I guess) thing is, my friends—with or without asthma—they’ve learned to live have learned to live with it. The people I see regularly have learned that I am not contagious. I am also extremely mindful of exposing others to any actual germs I may have—if I’m going to someone’s house and I do have a cold or something else maybe contagious, I make sure they’re aware and if they want to postpone, that’s fine. It also means I hope that they extend the same courtesy for my slightly-compromised immune system. For the most part, people know they’ve been exposed to something elsewhere and tell me they don’t care. But, given I cough all the time and people now generally assume I am not contagious and it’s just my asthma, I feel like I owe some transparency to people when I am sick. Friends share, but they should only share nice things ;).

Okay so, this begs the question, how do I know my cough is or is not contagious? Well, it’s true that I can never be totally certain. But, I probably know my body—my lungs, and my cough specifically—better than somebody without asthma. I can detect fairly subtle changes in my breathing and how my cough sounds and feels, and then determine how I should respond—do I have other symptoms that indicate I could be getting sick, or do I have increased shortness of breath or chest tightness along with it that means my asthma is flaring up?

And, I’m not a jerk. If I’m in the presence of other people, despite how non-contagious I usually am, I turn my head to cough or cough essentially into my shoulder as much as I possibly can. Because no matter how non-contagious you are or think you may be, coughing on people is a pretty jerk move. So, while I’ve been tempted to walk around with a “my cough is not contagious” shirt on at times, and while I sometimes explain to people “Don’t worry, it’s asthma, I’m not contagious,” if they look too concerned. I mean, in that case… It’s at least them, not me, right?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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