What Can Cause a Rattling Cough?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Mecomber
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 01 July 2019
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A rattling cough, so named because the lungs seems to "rattle" from the effort, is a wet-sounding, non-productive cough. This type of cough commonly follows pneumonia, bronchitis, the flu or a particularly severe bout of the common cold. Rattling coughs sound as if the lungs are filled with mucus or fluids, but nothing is expelled by the cough. The patient often feels exhausted from the effort. While rattling coughs may be caused by a variety of diseases or disorders, the true cause lies in the inflammation of the lungs.

Within the lungs are small clusters of cells. When inflamed by a virus, bacteria or allergen, the cells enlarge, become red and inflamed, and may produce mucus. The lung's automatic response for this inflammation is to cough. A rattling cough is a deep cough in which the lungs attempt to expel mucus or reduce inflammation, to no avail. These types of coughs often persist long after the patient has recovered from his or her ailment.


In most cases, such rattling coughs are not serious. They are the lungs' natural response to inflammation, and the coughing frequency usually subsides as the inflammation reduces. A chronic rattling cough, however, is indicative of a more serious disorder. Allergens or a deeply rooted bacterial infection may instigate a chronic cough. All coughs accompanied by a fever, lasting more than three days or associated with heart palpitations should be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Rattling coughs may be the remnants of a congestive illness, such as bronchitis or influenza. When the cause of an infection is viral, such as in influenza, antibiotics will not be effective. But certain remedies and treatments such as steam treatment from vaporizers, humidifiers or even a hot shower may reduce symptoms and provide some relief.

Cough expectorants may help the lungs eject mucus, but these products may exacerbate the inflammation by encouraging more coughing and mucus production. In some cases, a doctor may suggest a cough suppressant at night to allow the patient a brief respite from the constant and exhausting coughing efforts. Never distribute cough medications to children under 12 years of age without the advice of a medical professional.

Most rattling coughs resolve on their own. Rest, fluids, steam therapy and a healthy diet help expedite wellness. Since a rattling cough can be very tiring, especially if followed by a severe illness, the patient may need an extended period of rest to speed healing and prevent additional complications. It is important to consult with a doctor for rattling coughs that do not reduce over time.


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Post 5

Some recommend homeopathic treatments for rattling cough.

But there is no evidence proving homeopathy works outside of placebo effects. Homeopathy concepts are inconsistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics.

Post 4

I think the bronchitis cough is the worst kind. I've had bronchitis a couple of times in my life, and it is very tiring.

It's bad all throughout the day, but it gets worse when I lie down. I can't seem to inhale without having a coughing fit.

When I launch into a coughing episode, I cough until my chest and sides ache. My throat hurts from the strain, too.

It makes me so fatigued that I can't do anything but sit around until I'm better. My doctor gave me some cough syrup that contains codeine, and it helps me sleep at night, but I can't take it during the day. I just have to suffer through the cough.

Post 3

I've never had pneumonia, but my dad has. I remember hearing his deep cough as he struggled to get a good breath.

I could actually hear his lungs rattling when I got close to him. I think this is what doctors listen for when they put a stethoscope to your chest. The doctor wouldn't have even needed a stethoscope to hear his rattling lungs.

Post 2

@cloudel – My allergies are to blame for my persistent dry cough. I wind up getting sinus infections after a few weeks of really bad allergy symptoms.

It happens most often in spring and leads into summer. I produce a ton of mucus when pollen is all in the air and covering everything in sight. It causes congestion in my nose that eventually makes its way to my chest.

Most of the time, the cough is dry, but now and then, I will be able to cough something up. However, the majority of it feels like it's stuck way down inside.

Post 1

My chest rattles with a cough sometimes, because I have problems with chronic allergies. I think that all the post-nasal drip is draining down my throat into my lungs and irritating them.

I don't have bronchitis or anything, because I don't have a fever. My only symptom is an intermittent rattling cough.

It's worse in the morning when I first wake up. I cough for about an hour, and then it gets better.

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