What is Your Cough Telling You?


Coughing is the body’s natural cleansing process for the airways. Coughs are classified by being either wet or dry, identifying which type of cough you have may provide treatment options that could help you get better sooner.

Wet Cough

A wet cough, or productive cough, clears the mucus (phlegm) from the airways. A wet cough often accompanies two types of ailments – the common cold and bronchitis. Respiratory infections, heart conditions, allergies, and other diseases may also be associated with a wet cough.  The symptoms that accompany these ailments will help you identify which you may be suffering from.

The common cold is caused by more than 200 contagious viruses. The most common virus that causes the cold is the rhinovirus. Colds can last average 2 to 14 days, but symptoms usually subside within 10. To treat a cold, you may be prescribed an expectorant, which can help you “cough up”, or expel, the mucus from the airways. Although, many patients believe that taking an antibiotic for a cold will help, it is simply not the case. As colds are caused by viruses and antibiotics treat bacterial infection, antibiotics simply do not work.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air in and out of your lungs. There is usually a precursor to bronchitis, such as a cold or respiratory infection. Bronchitis can be identified by shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and wheezing when breathing in and out. The mucus you cough up is thick with a yellowish color. Bronchitis only lasts a few days, but the cough that is associated with it can sometimes last for a few weeks.

Dry Cough

A dry cough, or “hacking” cough, is called so because it does not produce mucus. These coughs are not contagious and are commonly associated with allergies or asthma and can include sneezing, watery eyes and mild wheezing. Asthma, which also produces a dry cough, will also have tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. The dry cough is caused by the narrowing of the airways due to inflammation from outside irritants such as strong fragrance, air pollution or high pollen count. However, left untreated, it could worsen. Antihistamines, nasal steroids, decongestants or avoidance can help relieve the symptoms of a dry cough.

If your cough lasts more than a few days, it is best to see your doctor right away.

Northwest Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine has two convenient locations in the Chicago area, Crystal Lake and South Barrington. Call 8154777350 to schedule your appointment today or use our online appointment request form. One of our staff members will contact you shortly.

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