Contributed by – Healthians team
Coughing is the body’s usual way of getting rid of an irritant like mucus, pollen smoke or any allergens. Whenever something irritates your throat or airway, your nervous system alerts the brain and brain responds by signaling the chest muscles and abdomen to contract and expel a burst of air. Coughing is also a symptom of a few illnesses. Your coughing experience, its characteristics, duration and grade can even give a clue to what actually the illness is. Therefore, you shouldn’t dismiss cough as something trivial, especially now, since dry cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19.
To help you better understand your cough type, we will talk about the various types of cough in this article, their possible causes and when you should see a doctor immediately.
You have a wet cough or productive cough when you cough up mucus or phlegm. You may feel like something’s stuck at the back of your throat or in your chest, sometimes a wet cough is accompanied by a runny nose, postnasal drip or fatigue. When you have this type of cough it means that your body is trying to push mucus out of your respiratory system.
A person with chest infection may sometimes cough up phlegm that contains a small amount of blood. If the blood is bright red, it’s normal and nothing to worry about. However, if it’s dark and contains food you need to seek immediate medical help.
Causes of wet cough are:
- Cold and flu
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Chronic/acute bronchitis
- Nontuberculous mycobacteria infection
Dry cough develops because of inflammation or irritation in the respiratory tract. A dry cough does not produce any mucus; you’ll feel a tickling sensation in your throat triggering your cough reflex. This type of cough usually lingers for several weeks after a cold and flu has passed. In most cases, it goes away on its own. But if it doesn’t, then it could indicate an underlying health issue.
A dry cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, hence it is important to pay attention if you suffer from it, if you notice it along with other symptoms like fever, breathlessness etc. then it is advisable to consult a doctor and get a COVID-19 test done.
Causes of dry cough
- Sore throat
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Lung cancer
Paroxysmal cough or whooping cough
In paroxysmal cough, a highly contagious bacterial infection becomes the cause of irregular, violent and uncontrollable coughing fits. It can feel exhausting and painful. During such an attack, the lungs release all the oxygen they have, causing you to inhale violently.
Infants and those with a weak immune system are at a higher risk of getting infected. They can also pass it on to others. The only way for you to stay safe is by getting vaccinated for it.
Other than the bacterial infection, causes of violent coughing attack can be:
Croup is a viral infection and children age 5 and younger are typically affected by it. It causes the upper airway to become irritated and swollen. This infection can pose a serious threat to children as they already have narrower airways. They may have difficulty breathing, make high-pitched noises during inhalation or breathe very rapidly. In severe cases, they may become pale and bluish due to lack of oxygen.
Other causes of chronic cough are:
- Smoking – Cough is very common among smokers. It’s almost always chronic with a distinctive sound known as smokers’ cough.
- Medicines – If you are on blood pressure medicines, then you might experience cough for almost as long as your medicine continues.
- Stress – Chronic stress makes cold last longer and consequently the cough.
- Dehydration – When you have a cold or flu, you need to take fluids like water, juice or soup as it helps to loosen the mucus so that it’s easier to cough it out.
- Too moist or too dry air– Either too dry or too moist air can trigger cough or irritate asthma patients.
When to see a doctor
Most coughs are not serious and go away on their own. However, in some cases, depending on the duration and severity of the cough and also on the age and health of the person, there may be a need to see the doctor for proper treatment.
- Cough that lasts for more than 8 weeks
- Blood in mucus
- High body temperature
- Severe weakness
- Severe dehydration
- Violent cough attacks
- Daily stomach acid reflux or heartburn
- Disturbed sleep
- Cough that lasts for more than 3 weeks
- Unable to walk or talk
- Turn bluish or pale
- Unable to swallow food
- Violent coughing attack
- Wheezing sound in addition to coughing
Cough commonly occurs after a bout of cold and flu and generally is not an extremely serious condition. Having said that, a persistent cough could be a sign of a more serious problem and it is best to take the doctor’s advice rather than ignore it.