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How to tell difference between a cough and an asthma cough?

Hi all

My daughter (now 3yrs) was diagnosed with asthma in September after a period of her having many coughs which kept her up and night and pretty much caused her to drown on mucus.

She has caught this cold that everybody seems to have at the moment with a very bad / horrible chesty cough. Up to now she has been fine with it, with us only having to use her blue inhaler a couple of times. However on thursday night she suddenly began having problems. A cough started shortly after her bedtime which slow built to a cough similar to how she is with asthma but this time she coughed some much she brought up a good handful of thick foamy mucus, sounds horrible but it was so thick it was like glue and very stringy. We managed to settle her after around an hour of distraction and tv! But at about 1.30 am she started to cough again, quickly becoming more regular building up to again a very wet and persistent cough to the point where she could not speak a whole sentence with out coughing.

To cut a long story short she is now on steroids and started these yesterday morning.

Last night she had a better night, but my wife ended up sleeping on her bedroom floor as she kept coughing and we were nervous about it becoming another flare up so kept giving her some inhaler.

My question is, how do we tell the difference between a cough from a cold and a cold caused by asthma? Her asthma cough does tend to be very wet to the point where she seems to be drowning in mucus and gets worse and worse to the point that she can not breathe. But it's does start like a normal cough. The cough she has had during today is hacking mucus type cough and she has done this a couple of times since going to bed. Do we react and give her inhaler everytime she coughs or is there a way to tell which is which?

Sorry for the long post!

4 Replies

Hello, sorry to hear this and I hope she gets well soon.

Personally I would say give her ventolin if you think she will benefit from it but if it is getting that bad then it may be worth phoning the doctors or if you are really worried a trip to A&E may be better. I will ask the others to see what they think but thats what I would recommend.

Keep us posted on how she is!


Hi, I used to wonder the same, how do you tell the difference between a common cough and an asthma cough but now I have come to recognise the signs of an asthma cough in my son in these main ways:

his breathing is laboured and you can see him recessing at his ribs and in his throat, where his skin sucks in too deeply,

He finds it hard to speak, often just coming out as a whisper or as a broken sentence (he is only 3 but I can tell the difference in his voice) and he sounds exhausted from coughing, whereas if my other son gets a cough (he doesn't have asthma) it doesn't cause these symptoms, however irritating he might find the coughing itself.

His cough is often followed by a kind of gasping for air or a long silent 'struggle' where it seems he can't actually breathe out properly

His heart rate often goes up considerably, even before the ventolin.

He does sometimes cough up phlegm too but I know this can occur with a non-asthmatic cough so I don't usually relate this to his asthma as much as the other symptoms above.

I hope this helps?

Rebecca :)


Hi my daughter is 3 too and has had asthma since she was about 10 months so I can reconises the difference in coughs now, but have had the same problem in the past. If i think there is a chance its her asthma I give her the ventolin to see if she improves. Now if her asthma flares up which 99 per cent of the time is when she gets a cold, Her breathing gets faster and she sucks in at her neck.

Hope your little one feels better soon. My little girl is on steroids to at the moment due to yet another chest infection. Theres so much about at the moment.


Hi it is a tricky one but I would say as she has been diagnosed with asthma he is likely to trigger asthma coughs when she has a cold. I would automatically give the reliever inhaler as often as required and see your gp ASAP. Never hesitate to give the reliever inhaler it is better to be safe than sorry. I say this as an experienced mum of a 5 year old daughter who has had asthma since 11 months old. Always trust your instincts and always be a pushy parent with medical staff when you need to be :) if I hear one more time that asthma needs a wheeze I might go insane. More gp's need training on asthma and inyour not with a asthma consultant at your local hospital get a referral it will be life transforming so your child is on the correct medicationa and you ate taught the correct way of dealing with your child's asthma. Good luck and hope she is better soon :)


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