Coughs: What the Different Kinds Indicate

October 21, 2020 by ChestMed Pte Ltd.26

Coughing is one of the body’s ways to get rid of an irritant or a foreign body. When something other than air is about to enter our airways (windpipes) or irritates the throat or airway, the nervous system sends an alert to the brain. 

The brain then responds by telling the muscles in the abdomen (tummy) and chest to contract and expel a burst of air to get rid of the foreign body or an irritant. Even saliva entering into our windpipe can trigger coughs.

Coughs are considered defensive reflex that’s designed to protect the body from irritants such as:

  • Smoke
  • Mucus
  • Allergens (i.e. mold, dust, and pollen)
  • Water 
  • Foreign bodies

In other cases, coughing can be a symptom of an illness or condition. If you have a severe and persistent cough, it would be a good idea to see a lung specialist or a cough specialist right away.

Coughs can be described by the following:

  • Experience or behavior – When and why the cough occurred. Is it after eating, while exercising, or at night?
  • Characteristics – How does the cough feel or sound? Is it wet, hacking, or dry? 
  • Effects – Does the cough result in other symptoms like vomiting, sleeplessness, and incontinence
  • Duration – How long has the cough lasted? Two weeks, six weeks, or more than eight weeks?
  • Grade – How bad is the cough? Is it annoying, debilitating, or persistent?

Different Types

Wet Cough

Also called productive cough, it is a cough that brings up mucus. A flu or cold are two of the common causes. Other causes include pneumonia, Tuberculosis (TB), and bronchiectasis. The cough associated with flu  can come on quickly or slowly and can be accompanied by other symptoms like:

  • Runny nose (mucus visible in front of our nostrils)
  • Postnasal drip (mucus not visible in front of our nostrils as the nose runs at the back of the nose in this case) 
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Wet coughs sound wet because the body is pushing mucus out of the respiratory system. Although wet cough treatment can include using saline drops, over-the-counter medications or antibiotics, specific disease requires specific treatment.

Dry Cough

Dry cough is the kind that does not bring up mucus. It can feel like you have a tickle at the back of your throat triggering the cough reflex and giving you hacking coughs. Dry coughs are sometimes difficult to manage. 

Dry coughs also occur when there’s an irritation or inflammation in the respiratory tract but there is no mucus that can be coughed up. Dry coughs are also often caused by upper respiratory infections such as the flu or cold. Dry cough is also considered one of the common symptoms of COVID-19.

In children and adults, it is common for dry coughs to linger for several weeks after a flu. Dry cough treatment can include nasal sprays, inhalers, stomach medications to suppress acidity, or antibiotics. Chronic and long-lasting dry cough can be the symptom of other underlying conditions so it is recommended that you visit your doctor for further checking.

Paroxysmal Cough

A cough with intermittent attacks of uncontrollable and violent coughing is called a paroxysmal cough. A paroxysmal cough can be painful and exhausting. People with this kind of cough might struggle to breathe and may even vomit.

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a bacterial infection that can result in violent coughing fits. The bacteria that causes this is called Bordetella Pertussis. During whooping cough attacks, the lungs will release all the air causing people to inhale violently with a “whoop” sound.

Babies have a higher risk of contracting whooping cough and may even face serious complications from it. For babies, whooping cough can be life-threatening. For babies aged 2 months or older, and even adults, the best way to avoid getting pertussis is to have them vaccinated.

Whooping cough also often results in paroxysmal coughs. Other possible causes of a bad coughing fit can include the following:

  • COPD
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Choking
  • Asthma

People of all ages may require antibiotic treatment for whooping cough. Whooping cough can also be very contagious so caregivers and family members with whooping cough should also be treated. The earlier the condition is treated, the better the outcome will be. 


ChestMed Pte Ltd.


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