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4 Types of Cough and their Treatments

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Mar 31, 2023

    4 Types of Cough and their Treatments

    A constant cough is a cause of worry. But to understand what has led to a particular type of cough is essential, simply because the right diagnosis leads to the right treatment. When you cough, it is your body’s way of rejecting a foreign substance or object. This substance can come in the form of smoke, something you’ve eaten, or an infection. In this article, we will talk about the different types of cough, the various sounds these coughs possibly make, what your cough means, and what is the best course of treatment for the same.

    It is important to remember that any of the following cough treatments, types of cough, or cough sounds can vary from person to person or even child to child. Consult your doctor before opting for treatment.

    What is Cough and Why Does It Happen?

    types of cough

    The human body has a reflex action for any irritant that enters it. Coughing is one such way of protecting itself. When you cough, your body is trying to get rid of the irritant stuck in your throat. Though regular coughing to clear your throat is normal and everyone does it. A little cause of concern is persistent coughing that can happen due to various reasons.

    Cough can be further classified into acute, subacute, and chronic cough. The first one can last up to two weeks maximum. The second one can remain for three to eight weeks. And the third one will be frequent and persist for longer than eight weeks. We will further talk about the types of cough later in the article.

    Following are the characteristics to define a cough: 

    • What does your cough feel like? Is it dry, wet, or excessively stretching your throat each time?
    • What is the duration of your cough? For example, is it an acute or subacute or chronic cough?
    • When does your cough typically occur? Does it happen when you eat or work out or when you lie down to sleep at night? 
    • Does your cough lead up to any consequent issues like nausea, vomiting, or restlessness?
    • How frequent is your cough? Does it choke you, does it occur every 15 minutes, or is it exhausting?

    If you cough up blood or nearly choke every time you cough, it is extremely important to talk to your doctor.

    Some signs of choking include bluish skin, not able to speak or cry, breathlessness, or different breathing noises or panic attacks.

    Common reasons for coughing can be due to other medications, asthma, allergies, infection, smoking, and more serious conditions like damage to the vocal cords.

    Different Types of Cough and What Do They Mean?

    Let us see the various types of cough that are diagnosed medically and what do they denote about your health:

    1. Wet cough

    A wet cough can be defined as the cough which brings up phlegm or mucus to the throat. Wet coughs are a natural by-product of flu, infections, or even cold. When you get a wet cough, it may seem like you’re coughing from the chest. A wet cough may contain a droplet of blood since it comes straight from the lungs, but this is not abnormal.

    Though, if you cough up dark blood with bits of food, it may be a cause of worry. This can also look like coffee grounds. If this happens, consult your doctor right away.

    Wet cough can often be chronic cough that may occur due to the following conditions:

    • Pneumonia
    • Bronchiectasis 
    • NMI or Nontuberculous mycobacterial infection
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

    A wet cough can come with other symptoms like a runny nose, fatigue, tiredness, mild fever, or postnasal drip. This cough is wet because your respiratory system, which includes your throat, airways, nose, and lungs, are pushing out mucus or phlegm. This can sometimes end up coming to your mouth as well.

    Typical duration of a wet cough depends on whether it is acute or chronic. If it is an acute wet cough, then it can last up to two weeks. If it is a chronic wet cough, then this can go up to eight weeks.

    2. Dry cough

    As the term suggests, this type of cough does not bring up phlegm or mucus. A dry cough can be rough at the back of your throat, and may feel like a slight injury if vigorous in nature. A dry cough can mean that there is irritation in your respiratory tract that causes friction due to the lack of mucus to cough up. Dry cough can be due to cold or flu. It can often occur after an infection has passed.

    Some possible causes for a cough can be sore throat, allergies, asthma, sinusitis, laryngitis, GERD or gastrointestinal reflux disease, excess exposure to pollutants, ACE inhibitors, and tonsillitis. 

    With dry cough, the discomfort could be longer since it tends to last longer.

    3. Whooping cough

    Whooping cough is a type of cough that entails violent coughing. This is known as Pertussis, a bacterial infection. It is a contagious condition that begins with flu-like or cold symptoms.

    The reason it is known as whooping cough is because of the sound it makes. When people get a coughing attack of this nature, their lungs try to gasp out all the air they have. The result is an aggressive ‘whoop’ inhalation. 

    The prevention for this is ideally a whooping cough vaccination. This type of cough takes at least two weeks to recover from. Infants have a higher chance of getting whooping cough because of their weakened immune system. So much so that it may be life-threatening for them.

    4. Croup cough

    Croup is a viral infection that affects children under five years of age. Since children are still developing their airways during this time, they tend to be narrower than in an adult. This causes the croup to make the airway swollen and irritated. This leads to breathlessness in children.

    Some problems that follow a croup cough are:

    • Pale or bluish skin 
    • High-pitched inhalation 
    • Rapid breathing
    • Acute breathlessness

    What Treatment Can You Seek for Each?

    The types of cough mentioned above require different treatment from one another. Your doctor is the best person to decide the type of cough and its appropriate treatment.

    1. Wet cough

    A wet cough can in most cases become fine with home remedies as well as medications. Though this depends on the cause of the wet cough. Adults can have cough syrups, cold-alleviating medicines, or opt for home remedies like hot water with lemon, gargles, and steam. Remember to consult your doctor before starting any course of treatment.

    For children, a weaker dosage of cough syrups and honey lemon water is considered the best option. Talk to their pediatrician to know what is the best way forward.

    2. Dry cough

    Dry cough may require antibiotics or specific medications according to the condition that has caused this kind of cough. This can also mean antacids since a dry cough may be accompanied by heartburn and pain. Check with your doctor on how to go about treating a dry cough.

    The same applies for children, but an additional humidifier at home may help as well.

    3. Whooping cough

    This type of cough would require an antibiotic treatment. Since this is a highly contagious condition, caution is necessary.

    4. Croup cough

    Very severe case would require a nebulizer. Less aggressive treatment would require acetaminophen for fever, humidifier in the child’s room, adequate rest, and consumption of lots of fluids.

    Therefore, it is vital to understand that different types of cough have varying treatments. Please remember that under no circumstances should you self-medicate. Consult your doctor if you’re going through any of the above-mentioned conditions, especially in children.


    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 31, 2023

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