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Are Coughing Fits Dangerous?

Marion Sereti


February 8, 2022
CoughPro is not a medical product. It is a wellness app intended only for users to obtain a better understanding of their cough. It is not intended to diagnose, monitor, or treat any illness.

We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.

A man coughing

A cough, interestingly enough, is not an ailment in and of itself. It's either a symptom of a sickness or a means of removing foreign stuff from our bodies. A cough tells our consciousness that something isn't quite right in our bodies and that we should pay attention to it. Are coughing fits dangerous?

Violent coughing can harm your body in various ways, including coughing up blood and fracturing your ribs. Coughing fits can get so intense that you vomit, and your lips turn blue from a lack of oxygen in severe cases.

At night, gravity causes stomach acid to climb up your throat, making your cough worse. The accumulating stomach acid irritates nerves in the esophagus, causing you to cough reflexively. Coughing fits, watery eyes, and breathing difficulty can result from breathing in pet dander, pollen, dust mites, dust, or chemicals.

How dangerous can coughing fits be? Unfortunately, you can sustain severe injuries after violent coughing, as highlighted below.

Fracturing a Rib

A man holding his chest

Coughing too hard can potentially break a rib, which is more likely if you have a disease that has made your bones frail, such as cancer.

However, one study says that a severe enough cough can fracture ribs and can occur even when bone density is normal. This study also suggests that cough-induced rib fractures are most common in women who have a chronic cough. The most typically fractured ribs due to cough are the middle ribs (those in the lateral part of the rib cage).

Rupturing the Diaphragm

During the exhalation stage of a coughing fit, the diaphragm contracts. Amid constrained respiratory movements, the diaphragm is pushed upward, whereas the ribs are inward and downward. In some situations, this opposing activity can result in a diaphragmatic tear.

Damaging the Blood Vessels

Some of the tiny blood vessels in the eyes, nose, or anus may rupture due to the pressure from a strong cough.

Muscle Pain

A violent coughing fit means that the muscles, especially those located on the chest, are under tremendous pressure. This tension might result in considerable fatigue and pain throughout your body.

Damaging the Throat Tissue

Chronic coughing can cause inflammation of the throat tissues. Coughing over an extended time can also cause throat infections, spreading to other parts of your body.

Coughing out Blood

Have you ever watched a movie, and suddenly someone dives into a coughing fit and coughs out blood? Well, they are not just being dramatic.

Coughing up blood is known by health professionals as hemoptysis. Long coughing fits can cause blood to accumulate in the lungs, which the affected person can then cough out.

They may cough up small amounts of bright red blood or frothy blood-streaked sputum/saliva and phlegm (a thick mucus produced, particularly during a cold).

The hemoptysis, together with chronic coughing, could indicate a chest infection.

Abdominal Hernia and Abdominal Tears

Abdominal wall defects caused by coughing are uncommon and necessitate surgical intervention; nonetheless, both abdominal herniations and abdominal muscle tears have been reported.

Abdominal muscle rips are particularly common in middle-aged and elderly chronic bronchitis patients.

Coughs can cause various injuries. For example, a 2006 case study describes a cough-related injury to a 59-year-old man. He had a highly uncommon combination of a cough-related stress fracture of the ninth rib, a traumatic diaphragmatic rupture (injury to the main breathing muscle), and an abdominal wall herniation. Fortunately, a surgical team was able to correct the hernia.

Can I Cough Up a Lung?

Have you once had a very severe coughing fit that you felt your lungs popping out? While coughing up a lung is physically impossible, coughing out a lung is possible.

For example, in a 2012 case study, a 40-year-old woman coughed so fiercely the force of the expulsion shoved her lung between two ribs. The woman had asthma and had been coughing profusely for the last two weeks. Doctors heard cracking, popping noises coming from her right midaxillary line, or the right side of her body, while assessing her. Further X-ray testing indicated that the woman had coughed so forcefully that she had ruptured her lung.

Other Potential Complications that May Arise from a Coughing Fit

Other issues that may emerge as a consequence of a coughing fit include;

  • Suppose coughing spasms occur together with diarrhea or vomiting. In that case, you may become dehydrated or even dehydrated due to insufficient fluid intake.
  • Hypoxemia (a lack of oxygen in the blood) and hypoxia (a lack of oxygen in the body) are two different things (lack of sufficient oxygen in body tissues)
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Fatigue
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Acute coughing spasms have caused some to pass out.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Coughs are a useful diagnostic tool, but how can you tell if you have a harmless cough, a Covid-19 cough, or something else entirely? 

An occasional cough is healthy, but if a coughing fit is severe enough to cause injury, it is best to seek medical attention. It's very vital to consult your doctor if you have the following symptoms:

  • The cough has lasted for more than a few weeks.
  • The cough secretes yellow or green mucous or blood.
  • The cough causes wheezing.
  • If, besides the cough, you also have a fever, shortness of breath, ankle swelling, or weight loss.

Although uncommon, a severe cough might be a medical emergency. Treat the cough as an emergency and seek medical attention if you or the person next to you experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Has difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Is suffering from severe stomach ache
  • They cough up a lot of blood and has a fast heartbeat
  • Is there sudden or severe chest pain?

Read more on our blog on how to stop a coughing fit. Learn how to maintain and improve your respiratory health to avoid potential consequences of severe cough.

Your Cough Matters

Based on our results in Google Play & App Store
  • Excellent, insightful
    By dust mite dan - Apr 7, 2023 - App Store
    This app is easy to use, aesthetically pleasing and has provided me with useful information about my cough and disease patterns that have improved my overall health!

    Try CoughPro for Free
  • Great app!
    by Imtfx0019 — Dec 6, 2022 - App Store
    Impressed with how well it detected my coughs, even very slight ones.
    Try CoughPro for Free
  • App is Great!
    by HBert Quach — Jan 22, 2023, - Google Play
    App is great at tracking cough when little ones are sick. I treat it as a early warning indicator before the cold gets back. Customer service is awesome, they actually respond to all my questions.
    Try CoughPro for Free
  • Great Experience
    by Christi Hammock — Mar 7, 2023, - Google Play

    I had an issue logging into the new app but I contacted the support team and they were awesome in helping me figure out the issue. It turned out to be a technical issue which they resolved very quickly and I was kept in the loop on the status from start to finish. This app is really helpful when talking to my doctor too..
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  • Impressive app
    By KayakTina - Apr 7, 2023 - App Store
    "The app accurately is recording my coughs with excellent ways to review the results. I can add notes to help me identify patterns or have accurate information for my physicians. I’ve hoped for an app like this for years to help me accurately track the amount of coughing I’m doing"
    Try CoughPro for Free
  • Accurate count of coughs
    by Beardonna — Mar 8, 2023 - App Store

    Just installed the app. Very accurate measuring coughs so far! Cannot wait to see how much coughing I do while sleeping. I'll have a better picture to discuss with my physician at my next visit.

    Try CoughPro for Free

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