Rattling cough - causes, treatment and home remedies

Rattling cough - causes, treatment and home remedies

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Rattling cough often originates in the bronchi. When the lungs are filled with secretion and mucus, the air that flows past makes a rattling noise. We can clearly hear this when the bronchi are mucus-covered - doctors speak of coarse-rattling noises caused by bronchitis. The alveoli are finer, and here the doctor only hears the rattling with the stethoscope.

Rattling noises when coughing due to bronchitis

The most common cause of rattling cough is acute bronchitis. Such inflammation of the bronchi is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, and the symptoms resemble flu with fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache and body aches. Childhood diseases such as measles or chickenpox can also be associated with bronchitis. Other triggers are dusts, chemicals or vapors and, last but not least, cigarette smoke.

The lower respiratory tract is inflamed. The cough doesn't just rattle; it is a painful, irritating cough. The rattling breathing sound is a key symptom, accompanied by expectoration in white, yellow or green. Acute bronchitis lasts for at least two weeks, but can last for up to eight weeks if exposed to cold, tobacco smoke or irritant dust. Without external triggers such as chemicals, it is a typical cold season disease.

Infants are particularly often affected. Every fifth child up to three years of age suffers from spastic bronchitis at least once, which narrows the airways and is difficult to distinguish from asthma. If the breathing difficulties and rattling cough in young children last longer than six weeks, this indicates asthma.

Acute bronchitis has a spontaneous course and will go away on its own in a few weeks. A doctor should therefore be consulted primarily to alleviate the acute symptoms. If bacteria are the cause, antibiotics are appropriate, for viruses it is sufficient to treat the symptoms.

What can you do about bronchitis?

If you cure inflammation of the bronchi, make sure that there is no smoking in your apartment. Give your body the necessary rest: it needs its energy to fight the disease.

  • Drink a lot, water, juice spritzers, fruit and herbal teas.
  • Take expectorant medication.
  • Do not irritate your airways with cold air or physical exertion.
  • Inhale with salt water, 2 tablespoons salt to 1l water.


  • Go for a walk regularly and eat a diet rich in vitamins.
  • Make sure that the air humidity is not below 50%.
  • Strengthen your immune system (strengthen your immune system).

Cause pulmonary edema

Another cause of rattling cough is pulmonary edema, a typical result of weakness in the left ventricle. Here the blood accumulates back in the lungs. The liquid presses on the alveoli and this leads to shortness of breath and rattling. The skin becomes moist, cool and pale.

Are typical of pulmonary edema wet Rattling sounds that sound like a bubbling liquid. Those affected can no longer absorb enough oxygen into the bloodstream. They breathe, gasp, feel choked, and are restless. Added to this is foamy sputum.

Acute pulmonary edema with heart failure is a medical emergency. Without treatment, it can lead to respiratory arrest and death in a few minutes. Call an emergency doctor immediately if you experience symptoms in someone. The doctor gives heart-relieving and water-expelling medication, oxygen and, in severe cases, initiates artificial respiration. Before the emergency doctor arrives, it is helpful to put your upper body up and your legs low.

With a fine-bubble rattle, one can lung infection be the cause. It is usually the result of a flu-like infection. She often follows bronchitis, now there are the coarse-bladed rattling noises of bronchitis, the fine-bladed pneumonia. This is either due to a secondary infection or because the pathogens migrate from the bronchi to the lungs.

The noncardiac pulmonary edema

This acute lung failure is not due to cardiac insufficiency, but rather either inflammation or poisoning. Causes include, for example, blood poisoning (sepsis), polytrauma, aspiration (inhalation) of stomach contents, inhalation of irritant gases or severe burns. Other organs often fail. Even if treatment starts quickly, every second person affected dies.

The altitude lung edema

This edema occurs in altitude sickness as a result of high pressure on the pulmonary artery. It usually appears one to three days after an ascent of 2,700 meters. Symptoms include shortness of breath, rattling cough with foamy bloody expectoration, feeling weak and ultimately coma. Those affected must be moved to lower locations immediately.

First aid for altitude lung edema

Call the emergency services immediately via 112 (or the appropriate number outside Europe).

  • Position the patient's upper body upright.
  • Squeeze the blood vessels in the extremities. If you have a weak heart, you will temporarily de-limb the heart and thus reduce the backlog in the lungs.
  • Open tight clothes and give air to the sick.
  • Make sure that the patient sits down and refrains from any physical exertion. He should support himself with his hands and thus relieve the breathing muscles.
  • Calm the patient and persuade him to breathe calmly.

The pneumonia

A typical pneumonia develops with a rattling cough, expectoration, breathlessness and usually fever and chills. It can be seen in the chest on the x-ray.

An atypical pneumonia can also be clearly seen on the x-ray, but the doctor often does not hear any rattling noises when listening and it proceeds without a fever, flu symptoms and cough.

Pneumonia is caused by viruses or bacteria such as pneumococci, Chlamydia pneumoniae, mycoplasma or rarely Legionella. Legionella are bacteria that multiply in standing water and that we inhale with the water drops. In contrast to the popular idea, the bacteria do not obviously need unsanitary conditions for this: They are in dirty urinals as well as in air conditioning systems, whirlpools and swimming pools.

Pneumococci, also bacteria, are transmitted via droplets, usually through coughing or sneezing. Above all, people are affected whose immune system is weakened by disease and old age or, as in young children, is not yet sufficiently developed. There is a vaccination against pneumococci, which is recommended for old, lung-sick or immunocompromised patients.

The bacteria Chlamydophila pneumoniae and Chlamydophila psittaci (psittacosis, ornithosis) can cause bronchitis, pneumonia and throat infections. And even with flu, viruses can lead to pneumonia. Here the fever rises to 40 degrees for weeks.

Pulmonary tuberculosis

This disease is historically known as consumption. A rattling cough, bloody expectoration and night sweats are characteristic. Tuberculosis (TBC) is caused by bacteria from the "Myctobacterium tuberculosis" complex. If the TBC focus is connected to the bronchial system, it is an open tuberculosis in which pathogens are released into the environment as droplets by coughing or sneezing. Hungry, weakened people and people who live in damp, cold apartments are susceptible to infection.

Lung cancer

In the worst case, the rattling cough is due to a lung tumor. Lung cancer has few early symptoms. If there is a coughing fever and fever, the patient's sweat comes out of his pores at night, and he spits out bloody secretions when he coughs, he is already at an advanced stage.

Nonspecific symptoms in lung cancer

Early symptoms are non-specific and are similar to bronchitis and other harmless respiratory diseases. Then there are chest pains, acute shortness of breath and reduced performance. The sick lose weight and become weaker and weaker.

Even now, the tumor can often not be seen in the X-ray image. Rather, a "round lung lung" could also indicate tuberculosis.

Main danger: smoking

As unclear as the early symptoms are, the main cause of lung cancer, smoking, is clear. Cigarette smokers are 15 times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers, and the situation is similarly dramatic for larynx cancer, tracheal cancer, oral cancer, lip cancer, and tongue cancer. Passive smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer by a factor of three.

It is not nicotine that causes lung cancer, but more than forty other substances among the 4,000 chemical compounds in tobacco. Other triggers that are not tobacco smoke are: radon, diesel exhaust, hydrocarbons, mineral fibers, dioxin, cadmium, arsenic or chromium. Lung cancer is as much a part of smoking as it is of industrial society.

Anyone who smokes, comes into contact with harmful substances in industrial work and lives in a region with heavy air pollution has a high risk of falling ill. Smog is a major cause in Third World megacities.

The extreme risk generally exists for industrial regions of Russia, China, for cities like Djakarta, Tehran, Istanbul, Mexico City or Delhi. Radon radiation, which emits from the radioactive substance in the ground, which can, for example, rise into the house via the basement, is particularly dangerous. In Germany, this is the cause of around seven percent of diseases.

The following applies to smoking: The larger the amount of life of the smoked cigarettes, the greater the risk. Nothing can be changed in this equation, and there are no tricks like “superfood” or specialty sports that could change that. Cigarette smokers get sick more often than cigar and pipe smokers because they "smoke on the lungs". However, the risk of oral cancer is higher with cigars and pipes.

Although cigar and pipe smokers are less likely to develop lung cancer than cigarette smokers, they are still seven times more likely than non-smokers. The more and the longer someone smokes, the greater the risk. The main group of people affected are smokers between the ages of 60 and 70. Conversely, if you stop smoking just five years later, you have a 60% reduced risk of developing lung cancer; 15 years later, it is only ten percent. However, he never comes back to the risk level of a lifelong non-smoker.

Can Lung Cancer Be Cured?

Lung cancer is a so-called killer cancer. The chances of curing him are extremely slim. This is also because it is rarely recognized early. Although the chances of a cure for a lung tumor that was detected early are poor, it is still much better than for a tumor that was discovered late. A very small tumor that has not metastasized can easily be removed.

Almost 70% of those operated on at this stage are cured. A preventive medical check-up is therefore urgently recommended, especially if you smoke or have smoked for a long time and are over 40 years old.

False guesses

Lung cancer is particularly tricky because the first signs of a layperson hardly indicate cancer. Some types of cancer change the hormone balance in the early phase. With more glucocorticoids, the patient becomes fat on the face and body.

Consequently, he then suspects improper nutrition, lack of exercise or even a problem with the thyroid. The cancer continues to spread while he is eating low-calorie therapy or jogging through the park.

Or the cancer promotes the formation of the hormone vasopressin. Sodium deficiency leads to brain edema, dizziness and disorientation. Countless diseases can be the cause, but hardly anyone thinks of lung cancer.

Or the bones ignite and swell. Instead of cancer, we think of rheumatism.

Prevention of lung cancer

Preventing lung cancer is much easier than treating it. Stop smoking. The combination of smoking and alcohol is extremely harmful, since alcohol dissolves the cancer pathogens present in tobacco.

Treatment for rattling cough

Rattling cough is not a disease, but a symptom, and therapy affects the underlying disease. Antibiotics help with bacteria, symptoms are primarily treated with viruses. A combination of different antibiotics must be taken over several months to treat serious illnesses such as TBC.

In the case of lung cancer, the rattling cough is the smallest problem. If anything, surgery, laser and chemotherapy help.

Pulmonary edema as a result of cardiac insufficiency is not an acute infection, but accompanies serious previous illnesses, be it high blood pressure for a long time, a heart disease or a repeated heart attack.

For bronchial infections and other non-serious diseases, home remedies for bronchitis help, among other things. Teas made from thyme, ribwort, ginger, spruce and mullein have an expectorant effect. Baths with camphor and eucalyptus are also a proven home remedy for cough. In general, you should drink a lot like a cold. This stimulates the mucous membranes, which can better remove the mucus.

What should you look out for?

A rattling cough in the event of a flu infection should be over after three weeks at the latest. A cough without sound can follow for a few days, but if the rattling continues, especially in connection with other symptoms, you should definitely consult a doctor.

A second infection is common and can lead to chronic lung disease. Is the rattling cough with bloody Ejection connected, then please go to the doctor immediately. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Sanjay Sethi: Bronchitis, MSD Manual, (accessed September 5, 2019), MSD
  • German Cancer Research Center: Change at the top: Lung cancer replaces breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death in women, (accessed 05.09.2019), dkfz
  • Ulm University Hospital: Lung cancer, (available on September 5, 2019), university hospital
  • Sabine Beck et al .: Cough, DEGAM Guideline No. 11, German Society for General Medicine and Family Medicine, (accessed September 5, 2019), AWMF
  • Noah Lechtzin: Cough in Adults, MSD Manual, (accessed September 5, 2019), MSD
  • Robert Kopf: cough, bronchitis - treatment with medicinal plants and naturopathy, BookRix Verlag, 2013

ICD codes for this disease: R05ICD codes are internationally valid encryption codes for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

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