Different Types Of Cough & When Can Cough Be Serious?

What is Coughing?

Coughing is a natural effort of the body to clear the airways and get rid of the irritants. Coughing is a signal that something is affecting or irritating the passage leading to the lungs such as smoke, medication, stomach acid or excess of mucus.

Different Types Of Cough & When Can Cough Be Serious?

Different Types Of Cough

Types of Cough According to the Nature of the Cough:

A cough can be of 2 types; either dry cough or wet cough.

A dry cough does not bring up mucus and is often caused by upper respiratory infection. A dry cough is most difficult to control and is triggered by a tickle in the back of the throat.

A wet cough is a productive cough, which brings up mucus. A wet cough is caused by the cold or flu and is accompanied by a runny nose, post nasal drip and fatigue.

According To The Period Of Occurrence, A Cough Is Of Three Different Types:

  1. Acute cough.
  2. Sub-acute cough.
  3. Chronic cough.

Acute Cough: An acute cough is mostly caused by a virus and lasts up to 3 weeks. An acute cough may be either dry or wet (with mucus). Cough suppressants are often used to calm down the symptoms of acute cough. Mostly acute coughs are caused by a viral infection, which subsides on their own. If a bacterial infection is a cause, antibiotics are often the recommended treatment to fight against the bacteria and reduce the acute cough. The conditions which lead to acute cough are: cold, flu, croup, whooping cough, bronchitis, pneumonia and pulmonary embolism.

Chronic Cough: A cough lasting longer than 8 weeks come under a chronic cough. Chronic coughs are difficult to treat. There might be various trigger factors such as smoking or certain medications which would be playing a role in a cough remaining for such long period of time. To diagnose the appropriate cause the doctor recommends various tests to isolate the reason for the occurrence. Chronic cough causes include: allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd), heart failure, post-nasal drip, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and ACE inhibitors. Treatment is basically cause-oriented. Smokers are advised to quit smoking to treat chronic cough. If the chronic cough is because of ACE inhibitors (given to the patients with high blood pressure), then the doctor changes the medication for the same.

Sub-Acute Cough: A cough which lasts up to 3 to 8 weeks comes under a sub-acute cough. Most of the sub-acute coughs resolve on their own. The conditions which lead to a sub-acute cough are: post nasal drip, post-infection cough, asthma and eosinophilic bronchitis. Antihistamines clear up the postnasal drip or cough due to an infection. Decongestants also provide relief in clearing or drying up the mucus.

A continuous cough disturbs sleep, mood and daily activities, it is, therefore, important to get to the cause of it and treat accordingly.

When Can A Cough Be Serious?

If a cough lasts longer than 4 weeks, and it is getting worse instead of better, then it may indicate something serious and you need to consult your doctor ASAP. Also contact the doctor immediately if the following symptoms are present along with your cough. The following symptoms with cough means it is because of something serious: chest pain, breathing difficulty, blood in a cough, weight loss, continuous low fever or high fever of 101 or higher, swelling in neck and coughing up green or yellow mucus. Emergency care should be taken if the child is choking, coughing up blood or is having difficulty in breathing.


A cough is a common problem and is actually a symptom of something else. A cough usually is nothing to worry about; however, if it persists for a long time and gets worse or is accompanied by other symptoms, then it can be due to something serious and needs medical attention.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 11, 2019

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