What Your Cough Means: How to Recognize Different Cough Types

Coughing occurs when the body senses an irritant in the respiratory system. The nerves signal the muscles to spasm in an attempt to expel the invader. A cough can have many different causes, including but not limited to smoke, pollen, mold, dust, allergens and mucus. Identifying the type of cough can help determine the reason for this symptom and guide the need for medical treatment.

How Many Different Types of Coughs Are There?

Everyone's body has a unique way of removing irritants from the throat and lungs. While coughs might sound different from one another, however, most fall into five main medical categories.

Different Types of Coughs

The common types of coughs diagnosed by doctors include:
  • Wet cough, which produces mucus and often occurs with the flu or common cold. Other conditions that may cause a wet cough include asthma, acute bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. This cough is characterized by mucus in the mouth or throat and often develops along with fatigue, post nasal drip and runny nose. 
  • Dry cough, associated with a tickling feeling in the back of the throat. This type of cough does not produce mucus and occurs with many upper respiratory conditions as well as exposure to environmental irritants such as smoke. 
  • Croup, a cough caused by a viral infection in children younger than 5. The croup cough is distinguished by its barking sound along with difficulty breathing, rapid breathing and high-pitched breathing sounds. These symptoms often arise in the middle of the night and result from an inflammation of the airway.
  • Paroxysmal cough, defined as uncontrollable or even spasmodic coughing. Paroxysmal cough is most often associated with whooping cough, or pertussis, a bacterial infection that causes violent coughing fits. Individuals may also experience exhaustion and difficulty breathing.
  • Chronic cough, which lasts for at least two months. This type of cough may result from an untreated infection or virus, ongoing exposure to environmental allergens, swallowing disorders, lung disease, pneumonia and smoking. Chronic cough is also a symptom of throat and oral cancer.

How to Know If Your Cough Is Serious & When to See Your Doctor

Croup and other types of pediatric cough usually resolve without medical treatment, although the symptoms can seem scary. When a coughing attack occurs, you can soothe your child with a cool-mist humidifier, exposure to cool outdoor air, steam, rest and plenty of fluids.
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In general, your child's cough does not require a trip to the doctor unless he or she:
  • Experiences wheezing or whooping (as with pertussis)
  • Displays significant fatigue
  • Cannot swallow food
  • Shows signs of dehydration
  • Develops pale or blue-tinged skin
  • Cannot walk or talk without getting out of breath
  • Has a fever of 102 degrees F or higher (any fever for newborns younger than 2 months)
You should seek medical attention for an adult when a cough:
  • Occurs with heartburn
  • Prevents sleep
  • Occurs with wheezing or whooping
  • Causes severe dehydration
  • Leads to extreme weakness
  • Prevents walking or talking
  • Causes a fever above 100.4 degrees
  • Produces blood
  • Lasts for eight weeks or longer
Left untreated, serious coughs are especially dangerous for seniors, infants and individuals who have compromised immune systems. These groups, as well as people who have existing lung disease, asthma or allergies, should always receive prompt treatment for an unusual cough.
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When it comes to the run-of-the-mill cough, however, cough medication and self-care measures usually help control symptoms without a doctor's visit or prescription. The Cough Control product from Brillia Health, based on powerful antibody science, is formulated to reduce the intensity and frequency of both wet and dry coughs. This non-drowsy homeopathic remedy may also alleviate chest tightness, sore and itchy throat, and nasal and chest congestion. Our easy-to-take tablets are safe for ages 3 and up.

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