The Meaning Behind Different Types of Coughs

If you or your child has a cough, it can be extremely frustrating. Not only is coughing just very unenjoyable and annoying, but it can be really challenging to know the cause and severity of the cough, as well as to know when to see a doctor for a cough. In general, a cough is a good thing. It’s a sign of health as it is your body’s way of getting something out that shouldn’t be there. Sometimes, however, a cough is an indication that something more serious is going on that needs to be treated.

Here at NCHS, we are passionate about educating and serving our local communities with top-notch health care services, and we always prioritize your health and your needs. We want to get you back on the road to health so you can live a happy, healthy, and full life. If you want to understand the differences between different types of coughs, learn how to identify which type of cough you’re experiencing, and know when to see a doctor for a cough, you have come to the right place.


Different Types of Coughs & Related Symptoms

Depending on the cause of the cough and the related symptoms, the way you go about treating the cough will vary. Here are the most common different types of coughs and their related symptoms.

Dry Cough
This cough actually sounds dry—nothing comes up with the cough and these coughs are considered “unproductive.” This type of cough is usually the least severe, and it can occur randomly or persistently. It may disrupt sleep and it may lead to a headache or even a sore throat. These dry coughs are usually caused by some sort of irritation to the throat, such as smoke, allergens, or pollution. Dry coughs are also commonly associated with colds or the flu. These types of coughs may signal a future lower respiratory infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, but they usually clear up on their own relatively quickly.

Wet Cough
A wet cough usually produces some sort of mucus as you cough. You should spit this mucus out, if possible, since swallowing it can lead to a stomachache or vomiting. Wet coughs are usually caused by an infection of some sort, such as a cold or the flu, and they are your body’s way of getting rid of the excess mucus that the infection created. Asthma can also be a cause of a wet cough, but if you are also experiencing congestion, a runny nose, a sore throat, or a fever, it’s pretty safe to say you simply have a cold or respiratory infection.

Croup Cough
Kids get croup more often than adults, and it results in a barking sound during the cough. It’s caused by a viral infection and usually brings swelling and inflammation to the windpipe, which is the cause of the distinctive sound of a croup cough. Croup is usually accompanied by a raspy voice, trouble breathing, and sometimes a fever. Although croup can sound scary, it doesn’t usually require a doctor’s visit, but if you are concerned that your child is struggling to breathe, you should take him or her in to your local NCHS office.

Uncontrollable Coughing
Fits of coughing are called paroxysmal coughing, and they are usually uncontrollable, violent, and painful. Whooping cough falls into this category, but asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis, and pneumonia can also cause paroxysmal coughing. Whooping cough is the more serious of these different types of coughs, and it is characterized by deep, fast coughing that gets worse at night and that is followed by a deep inhale that often makes a “whoop” sound. Whooping cough can lead to oxygen deprivation as people have a hard time catching their breath from the uncontrollable coughing fits caused by it.

How to Identify Which Type of Cough
Now that you know the characteristics of each type of cough and the related symptoms, it should be a little easier to identify the type of cough that you or your child may be experiencing. Generally, dry and wet coughs are the easiest to identify. Croup and whooping cough can be a little more challenging, but you should listen for the distinctive sounds that each of those coughs results in. Remember that croup coughs bring about a barking sound, while whooping cough results in a “whoop” sound after the cough is over and the individual is breathing in. If you aren’t certain what type of cough you or your child is experiencing, you may wish to see a physician. Knowing when to see a doctor for a cough can be challenging, but know that we will never turn you away if you are seeking to improve your own health or the health of those you love, even if the cough is not serious.

Cough Treatments
Cough treatments vary based on the different types of coughs. Most coughs are not serious or severe, and the majority of them will go away on their own. You can try a number of at-home remedies to ease the annoyance of coughing.

  • Drinking warm beverages like tea, especially with honey
  • Staying hydrated by drinking water and other low-sugar drinks
  • Using cough drops and lozenges
  • Using a humidifier or diffuser
  • Taking over the counter cough suppressant or mucus reducers
  • Taking a hot shower or breathing in the steam from a hot shower

Treating your cough at home will usually do the trick. It will reduce the frustration of having a cough and it will get you on the road to feeling better quickly. However, if your cough persists and you’re still uncertain about when to see a doctor for a cough, give us a call at NCHS. While the general recommendation for dry and wet coughs is about two weeks before you make an appointment, whooping cough and other uncontrollable coughs may need attention much sooner. No matter what type of cough you have or what your concerns are in relation to the cough, the caring staff at NCHS is here to help you feel better. Contact us today or visit one of our many locations.