Listen to what your cough is saying

Your body constantly defends against a range of external and internal threats. Particularly the respiratory system. If you listen closely, the way you are coughing indicates what might be ailing you. You may have come across terms like productive cough (one that produces phlegm), bronchitis, acid reflux and whooping cough. While each has a root cause, reaching for a cough syrup or expectorant may not always ease your symptoms.

First, find out if it is wet or dry
Broadly, coughs fall under two categories – wet cough and dry cough. Both come with their own associated conditions. Let’s take a closer look at what your symptoms might be pointing to, shall we?

Wet Cough
A wet cough, also known as productive cough, does the job of clearing phlegm (or mucus) from your lungs and airways. It is a natural respiratory reflex meant to cleanse your system.

The duration of this cough is a big clue as to its cause. In adults, wet coughs can be acute, lasting up to 3 weeks, sub-acute, lasting 3 to 8 weeks, or chronic, lasting more than 8 weeks.

A wet cough is accompanied by the following conditions:

  • The common cold or flu:If you’re experiencing symptoms of a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, a low fever (below 101.5°F), slight body ache or headache, and a post nasal drip (phlegm sliding down the back of the throat), you must be running a flu and a wet cough would be there too.
      • Causes: Common colds usually occur after a few days of exposure to a cold-causing virus. There are over 200 contagious viruses, out of which the most common is the rhinovirus. Rhinoviruses spread the fastest at 91°F which happens to be the same temperature as the inside of the nose.A cold virus can enter your body through your mouth, eyes or nose.  It spreads through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks. It also spreads by hand-to-hand contact. If someone with a cold has shared
      • Causes: Duration: Symptoms typically last from 2 to 14 days, but most people recover within 10 days.
      • Treatment: Expectorants will help you cough up your mucus, antitussives will supress your cough, antibiotics which kill bacteria but not viruses are not known to cure colds.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)/Chronic Bronchitis:A wet cough with mucus, shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, and wheezing is usually a sign of COPD. It is non-contagious.
  • Causes:Cigarette smoking and other long-term exposure to air pollutants or lung irritants are the most common causes of COPD. City-folk tend to ail from the condition.
  • Duration and Treatment:As the label ‘chronic’ suggests, COPD is a life-long condition and requires extended medical care. Speak to your healthcare provider for options.
  • Pneumonia: Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. The infection leads to an inflammation of the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. The alveoli fill with fluid or pus, making breathing difficult.
  • Is it contagious: Bacterial and viral pneumonia are contagious, spreading through air borne droplets or hand-to-hand contact. The fungal kind is generally contracted from the environment and does not spread from person to person.
  • Duration and Treatment: Pneumonia is a complex condition with risks for infants, people aged 65 years or older, and those with weakened immune systems and chronic medical conditions. The treatment, typically extensive, includes a in-depth medical history, physical examination and a series of tests. A combination of prescription and OTC medications, home remedies and sometimes hospitalisation is par for the course.

That’s the long and short of wet cough and its associated conditions. Now let us look at dry cough.

Dry Cough

Unlike the productive wet cough, a dry cough does not produce any noticeable mucus. Here are some common conditions associated with this type of cough:

  • Allergies/Asthma: If you’re experiencing a dry cough accompanied by sneezing and watery eyes, it is likely to be an allergic reaction to an foreign object. Symptoms of wheezing (a sharp whistling when you breathe in or out), shortness of breath and tightness of the chest points to asthma.
    • Causes: External agents like dust, pollen, smoke or strong odours cause an inflammation and a narrowing of the airways. The condition is not contagious but quite uncomfortable.
    • Duration: Both conditions can develop at any age and can be life-threatening if not treated in a timely and appropriate manner.
    • Treatment: For allergies: antihistamines, nasal steroids, decongestants, immunotherapy (allergy shots), or avoidance of the allergen altogether. For asthma: therapies may vary broadly from person to person. If you fear you have had an asthmatic attack, or an allergy, you need the immediate attention of a healthcare provider.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): GERD produces a dry cough often accompanied by a sore throat, hoarseness, a burning sensation under the sternum (the breast bone), or chest pain.
    • What causes it: It is easy to mix GERD up with everyday heartburn, because it occurs when stomach acids flow back up into the esophagus, often when you lie down or go to sleep. GERD has been identified as the third-leading cause of chronic cough. It is a persistent and problematic condition, but not contagious.
    • Duration: Cough associated with GERD can be chronic; be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about it.
    • Treatment: If you think your cough is due to GERD, see your healthcare provider for further evaluation.
  • Whooping Cough/Pertussis: A dry, intermittent cough accompanied by mild fever, a cold and a sore throat that grows into spasms of severe hacking cough. This is followed by the ‘whoop’ when the patient tries to inhale. Traditionally one sees this kind of cough in children. But it is also common in those who’s immunity has been compromised.
    • Causes: Spreads through airborne, highly contagious Bordetella pertussis bacteria.
    • Duration: Can range from 3 weeks to 3 months or longer. At first, whooping cough may appear to be a cold; as it progresses, it may evolve into bronchitis.
    • Treatment: While antibiotics would be required for adults and teens, infants may need hospitalization. If you or someone you know is experiencing whooping cough symptoms, for 7 days or more, please connect with a healthcare provider immediately.


Tags: Cough, coughing, wet cough, dry cough, cough with mucus, cough and cold