Why is it important to tell what kind of cough you have?

Cough is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Occasionally it is a natural reaction to an airway irritant – a natural body reflex and we all experienced one or two normal coughs a day to help clear the throat and respiratory passages. However, there are many health conditions resulting to this symptom and we should know when a cough needs attention.


According to Mayo Clinic some causes of coughs include:


  • Common cold
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Inhaling an irritant
  • Pneumonia
  • Whooping cough


  • Allergies
  • Asthma (most common in children)
  • Bronchitis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Postnasal drip



  • Acute sinusitis (sinus infection)
  • Bronchiectasis (a chronic lung condition in which abnormal widening of bronchial tubes inhibits mucus clearing)
  • Bronchiolitis (especially in young children)
  • Choking: First aid (especially in children)
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Croup (especially in young children)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Emphysema
  • Heart failure
  • Laryngitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Medications called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Neuromuscular diseases, such as parkinsonism, which weaken the coordination of upper airway and swallowing muscles
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — especially in young children
  • Tuberculosis


To treat a cough, it’s important to determine the cause – it helps us choose the right kind of treatment. Different types of cough suggest different causes.


What types of cough are there? How can you tell each apart?



Dry coughs do not produce phlegm or mucus, and are usually the airway’s reaction to an irritant or to asthma. It might range from the occasional annoying, dry hacking cough that disrupts your sleep. You might also develop a sore throat or a headache as a result of your coughing.

While the primary symptom of a dry cough is self-explanatory (a dry cough without phlegm. But a dry cough often accompanied by other symptoms and these can include:

  • Sore and dry throat
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Weakened immunity



Croup is a disease that causes a harsh, barking, dry cough that can sound similar to a seal barking. Croup in kids results in a swollen upper trachea, or windpipe; this is usually caused by a viral infection. The swelling, which is beneath the vocal cords, causes the barking cough.

Most often, croup is caused by an infection. There are two types of this condition — viral and spasmodic. Viral croup is caused by any virus that infects the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea), while spasmodic croup comes on suddenly, often in the middle of the night. Your child might wake up gasping for air.

Here are the signs your child may have croup:

  • A cough that sounds like a bark (may be worse at night)
  • Hoarse or raspy voice
  • Noisy, labored breathing
  • Fever (in some cases)
  • Rash
  • Eye redness
  • Swollen lymph nodes



A wet cough is caused by fluid secretions and mucus found in the lower respiratory tract (windpipe and lungs). Common causes of wet cough include infections and asthma. The coughing removes fluid from the lower respiratory tract.

If your wet cough has been going on for more than a few weeks, it could be caused by:

  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Asthma



A child with whooping cough (also known as pertussis) will have symptoms similar to an ordinary cold, but gradually the cough becomes worse, with severe fits of deep, fast coughing, especially at night. It is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.

The frequent coughing fits are generally a series of 5 to 15 staccato coughs in rapid succession. After coughing, the child will breathe deeply, sometimes making a “whooping” sound. The rapid coughing can lead to breathing problems and the child can look somewhat blue because of the temporary shortage of oxygen. While whooping cough can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious for babies less than a year old. The best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated.

Whooping cough has the same symptoms as the average cold:

  • Mild coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Low fever (below 102 F)
  • Diarrhea early on






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