Differentiating Dry Cough and Wet Cough Based on Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

“A small difference is a worth difference knowing!” Though many of us take dry cough and wet cough to be identical, there are some real big differences to know when we come forward differentiating the dry cough and the wet cough. However, because there are many people who are unaware of the differences between these two types of cough they end up taking wrong OTC drugs, which do not affect them in treatment and their cough remains untreated for long. In this current article, we will discuss about the various types of coughs and will get the differences between dry cough and the wet cough and also provide the relevant treatments available for both the types of cough which can be beneficial.

Differentiating Dry Cough and Wet Cough

Some Facts To Know About Cough:

Let us first begin with the list mentioning about some facts on cough.

  • A cough is a reflex response to irritation of the airways in the lungs.
  • Cough is primarily linked with the upper respiratory tract infection, though there are other conditions too which can build cough.
  • Coughing is more common in children, especially during their pre-school ages.
  • Cold, asthma, smoke etc are the most common causes of cough. Children who are being exposed to the cigarette smoke indirectly, may cough even when they are well
  • There are conditions when children might be coughing for three weeks.
  • Cough remaining for more than four weeks can be dangerous and may result in chest infection.
  • There are two types of cough, i.e. dry cough and wet cough
  • Treatments for dry cough vary from the treatments for wet cough and vice versa.

Different Types of Cough:

Now, here we come to the portion that mentions about various kinds of cough. So as mentioned above cough can be primarily differentiated in to two main types; i.e. the Dry Cough (without phlegm) and the Wet Cough (With phlegm/mucus).

The dry cough can again be categorized to three types; one is when there is just an itchy feeling in the throat caused by the viral infection of throat and nose, second is when there is infection in the larynx and there is a barking cough or croup, while the third type of dry cough is what we call whooping cough where the affected person continuously cough a lot and after which there is a kind of whooping sound with strong intake of breath. Such type of a dry cough is caused by bacteria. However, this is very much uncommon nowadays.

Common Causes of Various Types of Cough:

Different types of cough have different causes for their arrival. Let us discuss the causes below.

  • There is an occurrence of dry cough in case of asthmatic patients, especially during nights or early morning. Children who suffer from only dry cough without any other symptoms of fever, or cold are likely to have asthma. It is advised to make a visit to the doctor at the earliest.
  • Upper respiratory tract infection can also lead to cough on a major ground. Usually children do suffer from this mainly during the winter days.
  • Wet cough or the chesty coughs are the result of chest infections which may take enough of time to recover. If the wet cough and its symptoms remains for more than four weeks it can be dangerous and immediate treatment is highly essential.
  • Dust, smoke and allergy also are the causes of coughing in children and adults too. Usually dust allergies get dry cough in the exposed persons.

Differences Between Dry Cough and Wet Cough:

Here we come with the differences between dry cough and wet cough.

  • Dry cough is something where there is no phlegm or mucus. While wet cough is accompanied by phlegm or mucus.
  • Dry cough can be the result of dust, smoke and allergy. While wet cough are likely to be caused with chest infections and may be serious at times.
  • Dry cough can be treated with antitussives while the wet cough is treated with an expectorant. The antituttives help in suppressing the cough, while the expectorants are responsible for softening the cough and expelling them out.
  • Dry cough can be of three types as mentioned earlier and may be known as barking cough or whooping cough. While wet cough is the only one type also known as chesty cough where phlegm or mucus is expelled out.

Treatments For Dry Cough And Wet Cough:

As the causes and symptoms of dry cough vary from the wet cough, the treatment also do vary accordingly. Here below we will be discussing about the treatments for dry cough and wet coughs. But prior to that let us know about what all ingredients are used in the medicines/drugs/syrups available for treatment of cough.

  • Antitussive: It is also called as a cough suppressant which is used primarily to suppress the cough. One of the most common examples includes Dextromethorphan.
  • An Expectorant: It is used to soften the cough and expel it out. They are known to increase the amount of fluid in the phlegm of the cough and turn it to mucus which gets easily removed out. Some of the common example of expectorant includes Ipecacuanha, Guaifenesin etc.
  • Decongestant: These are known to constrict the blood vessels in the nose and the lungs, which help in reducing the congestion. Phenylephrine, ephedrine etc are some of the most known decongestant used in cough medicines.
  • Antihistamine: Antihistamines are known to reduce the release of histamine and this in turn help in reducing the congestion and reduces the amount of secretion made by the lungs. Some of the most known antihistamine used in cough treatment include Brompheneramine, Diphenhydramine, Doxylamine, Triprolidine etc
  • Antibiotics are also used in treating the cough caused by bacterial infection. Though viral infections do not require antibiotic treatments.
  • Apart from the above ingredients, some cough medicines also include other medicines like Paracetamol, Ibuprofen etc and some may also contain alcohol.
  • Herbal cough medicines are also available for soothing actions in cough which include glycerine, honey, lemon etc.

Treating Dry Cough:

Treatment of dry cough includes the medicines which contain active ingredients for suppressing the cough. As explained earlier, dry cough treatment involves the OTC drugs containing antitussives. Treating the dry whooping cough which is caused by bacterial infection may involve the use of antibiotics.

Treating Wet Cough:

Treating wet cough involves the medicines comprising an expectorant which can help in expelling the phlegm out from the chest by softening it. As wet cough can be serious at times, it is essential to talk to your doctor in case your symptoms exist for longer. Antibiotics are also prescribed for treating wet cough.

Precautions To Be Taken While Taking Cough Medicines For Dry and Wet Cough:

  • Make sure children below 6 years of age are not given the adult cough medicines. This may be risky to their health. There may be dangerous side effects involved with it. It is enough to treat their cough with simple preparation like glycerine, honey or lemon.
  • There are some medicines which also include other medicines like paracetamol. So in case you are already taking paracetamol then do make sure to consult with the chemist while making a buy on the cough medicine. Do ask him if it is safe to take the cough medicine containing paracetamol or any other medicine in case you are also taking the medicines to treat your infection.
  • Some antidepressants like the Monoamina-Oxidase-Inhibitors are reactive to some ingredients present in certain cough medicines. Taking these together can cause severe side effects like excessive high blood pressure or hypertension and also cause drastically excitable or depressed. Dextomethorphan, Ephedrine, Pseudoephedrine etc are to be strictly avoided even for at least two weeks after you stop taking the anti depressants.
  • It must be noted that many of the cough medicines may have side effects like drowsiness, constipation, etc. It must be a wise man’s job to consult with the health professional before taking the medicines and take necessary precaution to avoid such side effects.

Some FAQs Related to Dry Cough and Wet Cough:

  1. What are the complications of the untreated cough?

    Cough which are left untreated by any medicines for more than a week may result in complications like vomiting, muscle pain around the back, Rib fractures, fainting, heart palpitation etc

  2. Can cough be transmitted from one person to other?

    Yes! Cough caused by microbial infections are likely to be transmitted from person to person coming in contact with.

  3. How can the transmission of cough be prevented?

    It is good to keep your mouth and noses covered with a clean cloth while coughing and prevent your infection from spreading. Make sure you advise the same in case anyone else is suffering from cough. It is enough to keep the environment clean.

  4. When do you actually need treatment for your cough?

    In case your cough or symptoms persist longer than 3 weeks, in case you have other symptoms like high fever, difficulty breathing, etc you must seek doctor’s advice.

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 27, 2019

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