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Asthma

Frequent Chest Colds or Symptom of Asthma

10/15/2002

Question:

I get extremely frequent chest colds expecially in the fall and winter. I have 3 questions.

Is there any way to keep from getting so many chest colds, or to keep them all from going into my chest?

What can I do about excess mucus when I do have a cold? I can`t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time before I wake up coughing from all the mucus that builds up in my chest while I am asleep. Plus its embarrassing and exhausting.

One of my co-workers came to me today and told me they were timing me with a stopwatch and I only went for 2 minutes without coughing once, out of 2 hours that they were timing it. They wanted me to go home because it bothers everybody else when I wheeze and cough practically non-stop.

My dr tells me to increase my asthma meds if I am coughing alot. They do help me breath better but I don`t think they make me cough any less or have any less mucus in my lungs, which is what makes me have to cough so much.

My last question is, how can I tell the difference between asthma and a chest cold? When I go to the dr, the first thing he always asks is "Do you have a cold?" I usually say I don`t know, which makes me feel like an idiot, but I honestly don`t know how to tell whether the mucus and wheezing is from asthma or a chest cold. I don`t even know if I ever get one of them without the other, or if they always go together or how to tell the difference.

Any insight is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Answer:

It is not clear to me whether `colds`, asthma or some other process is the cause of the symptoms you describe. Colds, which are frequently due to viral infections, are typically more common in the winter months. This is because we tend to spend more time indoors, which in turn, increases our exposure to the viruses that cause this syndrome. Viral infections are also a major cause of worsening asthma symptoms. However, cough and mucus production can be prominent features of asthma, even in the absence of a cold. For some patients, asthma can be worsened by cold and dry air, thus their symptoms may be worse in the winter. Postnasal drainage associated with upper airway allergic disease or sinusitis can be another cause of cough and worsening asthma as well. I think you should revisit your physician since (a) the cough is disrupting your work and (b) you are awakening at night due to cough. For asthma, nighttime worsening could indicate a need for greater control of lung inflammation, but there are other causes of nocturnal cough as well. You certainly should not feel like an idiot when discussing health matters with your doctor. You can also discuss whether referral to a pulmonary or allergy specialist would be of benefit. Referral resources are also listed on the NetWellness site.

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Response by:

Dennis   McGraw, MD Dennis McGraw, MD
Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati