Why This Little Boy’s Cough Sounds Like A Squeaky Toy?

While most coughs sound hoarse or harsh, one little boy in India has a squeaky cough.

Last year, the 4-year-old boy came to the doctor with a bizarre cough: a cough that sounded like the beeping of a whistle. The boy’s doctor described the peculiar case of “whistle cough” in a new report published today (Aug. 8) in the New England Journal of Medicine. (A video of the boy’s cough can be found at this link).

Doctors took an X-ray of the boy’s chest and saw that his left lung was overinflated, or blown up like a balloon. According to the Mayo Clinic, this overinflation could be caused by something blocking the air passages in the lungs or by certain medical conditions, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.

From the x-rays, it’s unclear if something is actually blocking some of the airflow to the boy’s left lung. But if so, air would be able to enter around the lung where a “mystery object” resides in one of his bronchioles, or air passages, but would be unable to get out, causing it to swell, according to the report.

Assuming this was the case, the doctors performed a bronchoscopy, a procedure that involves inserting a thin tube, called a bronchoscope, through the throat and into the lungs.

Using this rigid tool, doctors located and removed the mysterious object, which turned out to be a toy whistle. In fact, the little boy had been playing with the little whistle before the onset of his cough. It turned out that he had accidentally inhaled it and it got stuck in his lungs.

Report co-author Dr. Pirab Saktivir, senior resident in head and neck surgery and oncology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, said that if it had been some other foreign object lodged in his lungs, it would have caused noisy breathing or wheezing, but not a whistling sound.

“Foreign objects in the airway are common,” Sakthivel told Live Science. but “the whistling nature of the cough is extraordinarily rare.”

A chest X-ray taken the next day showed that the boy’s left lung had deflated back to normal. When the doctor followed up a year later, the boy was in good health, the report said. His lungs were no longer whistling.