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Foul-smelling Cough: Symptoms & Causes

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Last updated April 9, 2021

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Experiencing a bad taste in your mouth after coughing could simply be bad breath. However, it could also point to an underlying condition. Causes for bad taste from coughing range in severity. Read more below to learn 3 possible causes of bad tasting cough.

Foul-smelling cough questionnaire

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3 causes of a foul-smelling cough

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced foul-smelling cough. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.


Bronchiectasis is destruction and widening of the large airways. Mucus builds up in these airways and can get infected, causing a pneumonia.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat

Urgency: Primary care docto

Foul-smelling cough questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your foul-smelling cough.

Foul-smelling cough symptom checker

Bacterial pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by one of several different bacteria, often Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumonia is often contracted in hospitals or nursing homes.

Symptoms include fatigue, fever, chills, painful and difficult breathing, and cough that brings up mucus. Elderly patients may have low body temperature and confusion.

Pneumonia can be a medical emergency for very young children or those over age 65, as well as anyone with a weakened immune system or a chronic heart or lung condition. Emergency room is only needed for severe cases or for those with immune deficiency.

Diagnosis is made through blood tests and chest x-ray.

With bacterial pneumonia, the treatment is antibiotics. Be sure to finish all the medication, even if you start to feel better. Hospitalization may be necessary for higher-risk cases.

Some types of bacterial pneumonia can be prevented through vaccination. Flu shots help, too, by preventing another illness from taking hold. Keep the immune system healthy through good diet and sleep habits, not smoking, and frequent handwashing.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath

Symptoms that always occur with bacterial pneumonia: cough

Urgency: In-person visit

Lung abscess

A lung abscess is a large collection of pus in the tissue of the lungs that results from a bacterial infection. Bacteria that should not normally be found in the lungs causes inflammation that leads to a breakdown of the lung tissue, thus producing the pus.

Symptoms vary depending on whether the abscess is acute or chronic. They may include fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss, a cough with mucus or blood, and chest pain when breathing.

Questions your doctor may ask about foul-smelling cough

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Do you currently smoke?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Foul-smelling cough questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your foul-smelling cough.

Foul-smelling cough symptom checker

Foul-smelling cough symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced foulsmelling cough have also experienced:

  • 13% Cough
  • 4% Chronically Bad Breath
  • 3% Vaginal Discharge

People who have experienced foulsmelling cough were most often matched with:

  • 35% Bacterial Pneumonia
  • 35% Lung Abscess
  • 28% Bronchiectasis

People who have experienced foulsmelling cough had symptoms persist for:

  • 43% Less than a week
  • 15% One to two weeks
  • 15% Two weeks to a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

Hear what 2 others are saying
Weird tasting PhlegmPosted January 23, 2020 by T.
I started coughing a decent amount in December but now the cough has died down to a standard amount of a common cold. However when I cough in the morning it's usually followed by mucus and a weird taste... Like a medicinal taste. I live in a flat that suffers from damp was wondering if it could be that.Also being a smoker I know that it prolongs any kind of cough but it seems to be the only way I can clear my chest. Hot drinks don't seem to help.
Cough with strange taste in mouthPosted December 25, 2019 by K.
Female, 18, I’ve had a cough that’s been coming and going since August of 2019. I’ve been to two doctors. One saying it was bronchitis and gave me antibiotics but didn’t work. And the next doctor not knowing what it was and ordered an X-ray but showed nothing so prescribed me Flonase but didn’t work either. When the cough comes it lasts for a couple days to a few weeks. Sometimes there’s mucus and sometimes there’s this weird taste. It’s weird and the closest thing to the taste is the way paper smells when it’s wet. And sometimes it’s a weird metallic taste. Sometimes I’ll have this moment where I have a difficult time breathing and feel like I’m going to fall over and pass out. I had a Fitbit and it kept saying my heart rate was about 110-155 when I was just sitting during these events where I felt light headed. I’m sick and tired of this cough but I can’t even get a clear answer from the doctors I went to. If it has anything to do with what’s been happening, back in elementary school I was told I had asthma or something similar but they stopped prescribing me an inhaler.

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