What is a Rattling Cough?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 January 2019
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A rattling cough is a condition which causes a rustling, rattling, or wheezing sound in the chest or throat accompanied by a chronic cough. The troublesome noises are generally caused by mucus accumulation in the chest or by sinus drainage into the throat. There are various illnesses which can cause rattling cough symptoms, including influenza, the common cold, pneumonia, and bronchitis. Other less common causes including viruses like pertussis, also called whooping cough.

In many cases, a rattling cough is nothing to worry about. The common cold often causes congestion in the throat or chest which can result in wheezing or rustling in the chest. Influenza is another common cause of rattling cough symptoms. It is not life threatening for most sufferers, although some members of the population are at risk of serious complications. The elderly, pregnant women, children under two years of age, and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable. Very rarely, complications may arise in vulnerable persons.

Occasionally, a rattling cough can signal a serious health condition. Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, is a condition which often occurs as the result of a less threatening illness which fails to heal, such as influenza. Large amounts of mucus may form and block airways. Breathing becomes labored and medical intervention is generally needed.


There are both “wet” and “dry” forms of rattling cough. “Wet” coughs are usually accompanied by mucus, which comes up through the throat and into the mouth during coughing spells. “Dry” coughs do not produce mucus, but the rattling sounds are still present deep inside the chest. This may require medication to loosen the mucus so that it can be effectively expelled.

Treatment for rattling cough will depend on the underlying cause. Viruses can only be destroyed by the body's immune system, but medication may be beneficial for alleviating symptoms. Bacterial infections can often be treated with antibiotics. Breathing can be aided in severe cases using oxygen or ventilators.

A rattling cough should always be checked out by a doctor, especially when it occurs in the elderly or in very young children. Influenza, pertussis, and pneumonia are potentially life threatening for infants and immediate medical care is needed to prevent complications. Parents or family members should take their loved ones to the doctor if coughing lasts more than a week without any signs of improvement, the person seems to have trouble breathing, or if the person stops eating.


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Post 6

I have a rattling cough that hasn't gone away for a week and a half. I also have a runny nose and am getting close to a hundred-degree fever. Should I check with a doctor? I am using advil already, two a day, and mucus relief every day since my symptoms started.

Post 5

I have an uncle that suffers from a persistent dry rattling cough. He says that this is caused by an allergic reaction to something that is common during the spring in the Midwest. This became such an issue for him that he moved to San Diego when he was a young man. He claims to have no trouble with it when he is in California, but every time he comes to visit my family in Missouri he coughs steadily and uncomfortably once ever 10 seconds. I can see why he moved.

Post 4

When I was a little kid my grandmother had a really terrible sounding rattling cough from influenza caused by a lifetime of smoking. She was a very sweet old lady that baked cookies and read stories and generally spoiled myself and my brother to death, but for some reason I always think of that cough when I think of her. It really sounded terrible and unfortunately it ended up killing her. She died of respiratory failure.

Post 3

I suffered from a deep rattling cough in my chest while in the hospital with bacterial pneumonia. When the sputum wouldn't come up from the lungs, they had their own solution for getting it up:

A physical therapist would come in and pound on my back where the lungs would be situated to loosen the sputum from inside the lungs so I could cough it up into a measuring-cup type tube. The sputum had to reach a certain level before I could be discharged!

Post 2

If you are fairly certain that it is a cold causing your rattling cough it is a good idea to head to the pharmacy and ask for some medicine that will relieve your symptoms. While pharmacists aren't doctors they can recommend good over the counter medications and let you know if they will interact with anything you are already taking.

Also, pharmacists are usually very alert and will often tell you if they think you should seek additional attention. One told me that my cough was not a cold and sent me packing upstairs to see my doctor. Apparently there are some rattling coughs that sound noticeably different depending on the severity of the problem.

Post 1

If you are at home and feeling ill a rattling cough can be painful and make it difficult to function at your best. If you aren't able to see a doctor right away there are some things you can do to clear up your airways and make it more comfortable to breathe.

A good tip is to take a hot steamy shower. The steam can help break up trapped mucus which can make you feel a lot better. A warm compress on your chest, such as a heated towel or water bottle can also improve your condition.

If you are willing, there are various rubs available for sale at pharmacies that offer relief from a terrible cough when put on the chest.

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