Coughing sometimes serves an important protective function by expelling materials from the airways so they do not reach the lungs. However, a cough is also a troubling symptom and represents one of the most common reasons why patients seek a physician's help. Violent coughing bouts, known medically as paroxysmal cough, have been classically associated with pertussis, or whooping cough. However, many other medical conditions may present with violent coughing spells.
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Whooping cough was a major cause of death in pediatric age groups in the first half of the 20th century. It is a highly contagious disease that starts out with symptoms resembling the common cold, but then the symptoms develop into severe, prolonged bouts of violent coughing. Whooping cough is also known as pertussis, since it is caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Another similar bacterium, B. parapertussis, also causes a respiratory illness very similar and almost indistinguishable from pertussis. Merck.com states that the only way to obtain a certain diagnosis of whooping cough is by taking a swab from the nose and running it through a lab technique that allows the cells to be analyzed and bacteria detected.
Choking and Foreign Body Inhalation
While it may seem obvious that someone who has a violent coughing bout might be choking on something, it is important to remember this when dealing with a coughing toddler or infant. Merck.com points out that infants from six months onwards are at particular risk for choking due to foreign body inhalation.
ACE inhibitors, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, are medications used to lower the blood pressure and to treat a variety of medical conditions. Chronic cough is among the side effects of ACE inhibitors. As enumerated in a study published in 1989 in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, this cough may come in bouts severe enough to induce vomiting.
A certain form of unusual respiratory infection also causes coughing bouts. When this organism, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, infects the lung, it causes pneumonia, a lung infection characterized by cough that is paroxysmal, dry, and worse at night. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians in April 2004 reassuringly cites the mortality rate as 1.4 percent. Infection by this organism may be associated with skin rashes and eruptions or neurological derangements, including inflammation of brain tissue.
- MayoClinic.com: Whooping cough
- European Respiratory Society: Acute and chronic cough syndromes differential diagnosis: infections or not?
- Merck.com: Pertussis
- Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology; Cough associated with Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibition; A.H Morice et al.; 1989
- Journal of American Academy of Family Physicians; Atypical Pathogens and Challenges in Community-Acquired Pneumonia ; P. Thibodeau et al; April 2004