What Your Cough Means: How to Recognize Different Cough Types

"Left untreated, serious coughs are especially dangerous for seniors, infants and individuals who have compromised immune systems"

Coughing is a normal reflex that 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, certain types of foods, allergens and mucus. Identifying the type of cough can help determine the reason you are coughing and guide the need for medical treatment.

Read on to distinguish one cough from another and what you can do to recover quickly.

Is Your Cough a Sign of COVID, the Flu, a Cold, or Allergies?  

If you develop a cough these days, one of the first things that might cross your mind is, “Do I have COVID?” While coughing is one of the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19, there are some ways to tell it apart from other types of coughs, such as those associated with the flu, the common cold, or even allergies

For one, a COVID-19 cough is typically dry, and it is usually accompanied by other symptoms like a headache, fever, stomach upset, and loss of taste or smell. Colds, on the other hand, rarely cause headaches or fever, and will never cause gastrointestinal upset. They are often milder than COVID-19 symptoms and shouldn’t cause the body aches that often come with COVID-19. And though the flu does cause headaches and fever, it should not cause a loss of taste or smell. 

When it comes to allergies, it’s important to note that allergy symptoms are not caused by a virus like a cold or flu. They are triggered by things like seasonal tree and grass pollens. Unlike COVID-19, allergies should not cause a headache, fever, muscle aches, or stomach upset.   

How to Identify the Different Types of Coughs 

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

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Wet Cough

Wet cough, otherwise known as a productive cough, 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, postnasal drip and runny nose. 

Dry Cough

Dry cough is 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. It is commonly associated with COVID-19, but a dry cough can also be caused by allergies, asthma, GERD, or even certain high blood pressure medications. In some cases, a dry cough can also be a sign of a more serious problem like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis,or sleep apnea. Dry coughs can also be accompanied by chest tightness.


Croup is a cough caused by a viral infection in children younger than five. 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. Croup may also be accompanied by classic cold symptoms like a stuffy or runny nose.

Paroxysmal Cough

Paroxysmal cough is 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. Symptoms often worsen at night and can last one to six weeks or more.

Chronic Cough

Chronic cough 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, but these diseases usually come with other serious signs like a cough that produces blood, back pain, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.

Cough Treatments

When it comes to the run-of-the-mill cough, many people turn to over-the-counter cough syrups or cold/flu medications laden with harsh, synthetic chemicals. These medications don’t only cause a range of side effects like dry mouth, grogginess, and nervousness, but there’s also no evidence that they actually suppress or stop coughing when compared to placebo.1 

An alternative to these common cough medicines is Brillia Cough Control, a homeopathic cough medication that can help control symptoms without harsh, synthetic chemicals, harmful side effects, or contraindications. Available without a doctor's visit or prescription, Cough Control uses powerful antibody science to reduce the intensity and frequency of both wet and dry coughs while alleviating the stress that coughing places on the body. This non-drowsy homeopathic remedy can also alleviate chest tightness, ease sore and itchy throats, and reduce both nasal congestion and chest congestion. The formulation is so targeted and specific, that it stops the cough at the very source of symptoms without affecting any other systems in the body. The tablets are easy-to-take and safe for anyone aged three and up.

When to Check in With Your Doctor

In some cases, it’s helpful to see a doctor, especially if your cough is lingering on for too long. 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.

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.

If you have any questions about your cough, it’s always recommended to call your doctor just to be safe. 

Learn more about how to reduce coughing and other symptoms of the cold and flu at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.

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References: 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1325161/

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