A cough is an important defensive reflex that helps protect your body from irritants like:
– allergens, such as dust, mold, and pollen
Coughing is a symptom of many illnesses and conditions. Sometimes, the characteristics of your cough can give you a clue to its cause. Here are the common coughs and what they mean:
There’s actually no specific medical criteria to classify a dry cough and a wet cough, explains David Cutler, M.D., a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. That’s because it’s open to interpretation. “Your wet cough might seem like a dry cough to me,” he says.
But, in general, a dry cough means you’re coughing but nothing is coming up, like phlegm or mucus, says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network. If you’re regularly producing phlegm when you cough, you’re likely dealing with a wet cough.
Many things can cause a dry cough, including allergies and being indoors with dry air all day (cue the humidifier!), Dr. Holmes says. Any irritation in your throat can also cause a dry cough, she says. Postnasal drip, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), asthma, and smoking are also common triggers.
What does a dry cough feel like?
In general, it can feel like any cough without the phlegm. You can also feel like you’re having dryness, a tickle, or tightness in your chest, Dr. Parikh says.
Ultimately, it feels a lot like your lungs are irritated, says Aline M. Holmes, D.N.P., R.N., a clinical associate professor at Rutgers University School of Nursing. “The dry cough people are often experiencing with coronavirus is a very deep, low cough from the bottom of the lungs,” she explains.
If a dry cough continues to persist more than three weeks, you may need to have your physician look at it.
A wet cough, also called a productive cough, is a cough that typically brings up mucus.
Wet coughs sound wet because your body is pushing mucus out of your respiratory system, which includes your:
If you have a wet cough, you may feel like there’s something stuck or dripping at the back of your throat or in your chest. Some of your coughs will bring mucus into your mouth.
Wet coughs can be acute and last less than 3 weeks or chronic and last longer than 8 weeks in adults or 4 weeks in children. The duration of a cough may be a big clue as to its cause.
A barking cough sounds like the barking of a seal. The barking sound results from inflammation of the upper airways, particularly the airways surrounding the larynx. According to the National Institutes of Health, a barking cough is also referred to as a croup cough because it is characteristic of croup.
Croup is a viral infection that