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Dry Cough vs Wet Cough: Differences and Proper Treatment

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Mar 23, 2023

    Dry Cough vs Wet Cough: Differences and Proper Treatment

    A cough is your body’s way of reacting to foreign particles in the throat or the airway. When the foreign particles irritate the nerves, it communicates to your brain. The brain further communicates with the chest muscles and abdomen to get rid of the foreign particles by passing the air out of your lungs making you cough. Read on to learn the differences and proper treatment for dry cough vs wet cough.

    Most people have the habit of coughing just to clear the throat, this frequent coughing can also cause serious health conditions. You may also get a cough if you have a cold or fever.

    Most of the time a cough resolves on its own, while sometimes you may need to take medications. Despite the differences between dry cough vs wet cough, it’s important to remember: if your cough does not resolve after 15 days seek medical help. There are two types of cough – dry cough and wet cough. The causes, symptoms, and treatments may vary based on the type of cough you have.

    Dry cough vs wet cough: What is the difference?

    dry cough vs wet cough

    What is a dry cough?

    If you have a dry cough, your body does not produce any mucus. You may constantly feel something in your throat but there will be nothing there. This is why it’s also called a non-productive cough.

    It is mainly caused by an infection in the respiratory tract. You may also get a dry cough because of allergies, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sinusitis, or excess exposure to dust.

    What is a wet cough?

    The main difference between dry cough vs wet cough is the presence of phlegm.

    Also called ‘productive cough’, a wet cough is usually caused by a cold or fever. The most common symptoms include a runny nose.

    It is mainly caused by a respiratory infection, heart ailment, or chronic lung infection.

    Respiratory infection includes pneumonia, cold, throat infection, or bronchitis. When you have a heart ailment it becomes difficult for your heart to pump enough blood required for your body. This can cause the mucus to drip in the air sacs resulting in a wet cough.

    Your health care professional may diagnose the condition with the help of a simple physical examination. He/she may ask you about the symptoms you are experiencing and how long you have been dealing with the condition.

    In severe cases, when even the medications and home remedies do not seem effective, he/she may ask you to undergo a few tests.

    The tests may help the doctor to know the exact cause of your condition. The test you may be prescribed includes a chest X-ray, sputum analysis, blood tests, pulse oximetry, etc.

    The major difference between a dry cough vs wet cough is the production of mucus in the airways. If you have a wet cough, your body produces excess mucus, while in dry your body produces little to no mucus.

    Difference between dry cough vs wet cough treatments

    dry cough vs wet cough

    Treatment for dry cough

    Antibiotics – If your cough is because of an infection or pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics. Your doctor may even prescribe you cough syrup.

    Ginger – It is one of the effective remedies to treat dry cough. The herb has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is available in every household. Not just to treat cough, it is also beneficial to get rid of the infection and boost your immunity.

    You can consume ginger either directly after cleaning it properly or by making ginger tea. Making ginger tea is simple. All you need to do is clean the ginger, cut it into small pieces. Put the ginger in boiling water. Add honey to the tea and drink it warm.

    Aromatherapy – It is also a proven method to treat dry cough. Essential oils like peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil help to treat dry cough. Pour a few drops of oil on a clean cloth and inhale it. Or pour a few drops of the oil in a hot water bowl and take the steam. Before using essential oils for treatment, make sure you check if you are allergic to it.

    A saltwater gargle – It is one of the oldest home remedies that helps to treat cough and throat infection. All you need to do is take warm water and add salt to it. Let the salt dissolve completely. Gargle with the water at least two to three times a day.

    Treatment for wet cough

    The treatment for wet cough may depend on the cause. If the cause of your wet cough is a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics and a few home remedies.

    If the condition is making it difficult to breathe, you may take the help of airway clearance devices. These devices help to move the mucus from the airways and help you breathe better. If your cough is because of a heart ailment, your doctor may prescribe diuretics that will help lessen the fluid in your lungs.

    Home remedies to treat wet cough

    Humidifier – Humidifiers help to avoid inhaling dry air by adding moisture to the air. This is beneficial to relieve congestion that is caused by mucus. The humid air makes the mucus thinner making it easier to pass out of the lungs. It also helps to improve your breathing.

    Honey – Honey is an age-old method to treat cough. All you need to do is eat a spoonful of honey before hitting your bed at night. This will help to relieve cough and let you have a good sleep without waking you up because of congestion or coughing.

    The remedy is suitable for children as well as adults. When using the remedy for kids, make sure your child is above 12 months old. Check if the honey is natural and does not contain sugar and other preservatives.

    Hydration – Staying hydrated not just helps to fight cough, but also a number of other infections. Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water in a day. This also prevents your throat from drying, a major cause of infection.

    Seek medical help

    Despite the differences between dry cough vs wet cough management, they do share common factors, such as when to seek medical attention.

    • If you have a persistent cough that does not resolve within 15 days, it is advised to seek medical help. This might be an indication of a serious health condition.
    • If you have an existing health condition that makes your cough worse, talk to your doctor.
    • An individual with existing health conditions like asthma is advised to consult the doctor immediately after the cough begins.
    • If a cough is accompanied by fever, seek medical help.
    • If you or your child has a fever with serious symptoms like difficulty in breathing, dehydration, weakness, or wheezing, seek immediate medical help. This might be an indication of a serious health problem.

    Learn more about managing dry cough vs wet cough and other respiratory issues here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jezreel Esguerra, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Mar 23, 2023

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