Whether you think you might be coming down with a cold or the flu or have a chronic lung problem, you might find yourself coughing from time to time. Usually, you don’t notice any kind of taste with a cough. But sometimes, you might find that a cough leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And you may wonder why this cough tastes weird and whether that’s something you should be concerned about.
We spoke with Jason McCarl, MD, a pulmonologist with Banner Health, to learn more about what might be behind a bad tasting cough, when you should be worried, and what to do if your cough leaves a yucky taste in your mouth.
Why you might have a cough with a bad taste
Usually, a cough that tastes bad or weird will be wet or productive, since it’s the mucus or sputum you are tasting. It’s not common to notice a taste with a dry, unproductive cough.
“Having some kind of infection in your lungs could potentially cause a bad-tasting cough,” Dr. McCarl said. Your cough could taste bad because of:
- Pneumonia, where you’ll probably also experience fever, shortness of breath, chest discomfort and other symptoms of infection.
- Chronic conditions such as bronchiectasis, where you have an abnormality in the structure of your respiratory tract that makes it easier to develop bacterial infections. “Your lungs have natural defenses that can be compromised in this case,” Dr. McCarl said.
- Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can masquerade as a sore throat and cough. You can feel reflux in the back of your throat and think it’s coming from your lungs when it’s actually coming from your esophagus. “Your esophagus is right next to your airway, so, you can get spillover and cough that stuff up. That stomach acid and contents from your stomach can taste bad,” Dr. McCarl said.
- Bronchitis, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Complications from these chronic conditions can make your cough taste icky.
- Postnasal drip, which can often go undetected. “People get so used to postnasal drip, and they don’t realize they have it. But content from your sinuses can drip down into your airway and not taste great,” Dr. McCarl said.
- An upper respiratory infection, since irritation can bring small amounts of blood into your mouth when you cough, which can taste like metal.
When to worry about a cough with a bad taste
Coughs with a bad taste can be concerning. Seek medical attention or get in touch with your doctor to talk about your symptoms if:
- You also have symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, chills and chest pain or discomfort, since these could be signs of pneumonia.
- You don’t usually cough, and you’re coughing up sputum, or you have a chronic cough and you’re coughing up more sputum than you typically do.
- The color of your sputum changes.
- You have a cough that tastes bad that lasts for more than a week, even if the amount or color of the sputum doesn’t change.
- You’re coughing up blood (more than a small amount).
Treatments for a bad tasting cough
A cough that tastes yucky is a sign of another problem. So, if you have a bad tasting cough, you’ll want to treat the underlying condition that is causing it.
- If you have pneumonia or another lung infection, you may need antibiotics. “There are a lot of different organisms that can infect the lungs, and they can have different treatment options and approaches. It’s not ‘one-size-fits-all. The type of organism can guide what we decide to do,” Dr. McCarl said.
- If you have a chronic lung condition such as bronchitis, asthma or COPD, you may need to change the medication you use to control it.
- If you have reflux or postnasal drip, you may need treatment for those conditions.
The bottom line
Coughs don’t usually have a taste, but sometimes they can taste bad. A foul taste in your cough can be a sign of a problem, especially if you notice other worrisome symptoms or the cough lasts more than a week. If you’re concerned about your cough, talk to your doctor.