If you get a wet dry cough, it is always difficult knowing what is the best medicine for wet versus dry cough, as it will vary depending on your symptoms.
Coughing is your body’s way of getting rid of an irritant. The cough reflex is triggered when something irritates your throat. It is also triggered when your airways are blocked by something such as phlegm (mucus), or a piece of food. When we cough our brain tells the muscles in our chest and abdomen to contact, expelling a burst of air.
One of the easiest ways to describe your cough is through its characteristics – how it sounds and feels. Understanding this can be an effective way to know what your cough may be caused by, and what you can do at home to reduce and relieve symptoms.
Wet dry cough – which one do you have?
Coughs can be classed as productive (wet) and non-productive (dry). Treatments for the different coughs are varied. With a productive/wet cough treatment aims to loosen up the mucous allowing you to cough up more of it. Preventing a wet cough can result in a build-up of phlegm in your airways which can result in further complications.
Treatment for non-productive/dry coughs is aimed at preventing the cough from occurring by suppressing the cough reflex. Since a dry cough does not cause the build-up of phlegm in the airways there is minimal risk of further complications by suppressing it.
What is a wet cough?
Also called a productive cough, is a cough which typically produces phlegm (mucus). A cold or the flu commonly cause wet coughs, and they may be accompanied with symptoms such as a runny nose, or fatigue. The mucus may come from the back of your throat, nose, or sinuses, or up from your lungs.
If you have a wet cough, you might feel like there is something stuck in your chest or dripping at the back of your throat.
The Ministry of Health states there are many different causes of a productive cough including:
Viral illnesses – it is normal to have a productive cough with a common cold. Coughing is triggered by mucus draining down the back of your throat.
Infections – an infection of the lungs or upper airway passages such as pneumonia, bronchitis or tuberculosis will cause a productive cough.
Chronic lung disease – a productive cough could be a sign that a disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is getting worse, or an infection has started.
Stomach acid backing up into your oesophagus (the tube that goes from your throat to your stomach) – this type of cough may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease and may wake you from sleep.
Smoking or other tobacco use – if you smoke, a productive cough can be a sign of lung damage.
Asthma – this can sometimes produce a sticky mucus because the airways are inflamed and irritated during an asthma attack.
What is a dry cough?
Also known as a non-productive cough. If you have a dry cough, you may feel a tickle in the back of your throat, and will trigger your cough reflex. Often develops at the end of a cold or after exposure to an irritant, resulting in hacking coughs. Dry coughs do not bring up mucus.
The Ministry of Health states there are many different causes of a non-productive cough including:
Viral illnesses – after a cold, you may have a dry cough for several weeks which often gets worse at night.
Bronchospasm – this is a spasm of the bronchial tubes caused by irritation, particularly at night.
Allergies – hay fever can cause a tickly throat, or the mucus from sneezing can irritate your throat and make you cough.
Medicines – ACE inhibitors that are used to control high blood pressure can cause a cough.
Irritants – exposure to dust, fumes and chemicals can make you cough.
Asthma – a dry cough may be a sign of mild asthma.
Blockage – if something gets stuck in your airway, such as food or a pill, you will usually cough.
- Cough – Ministry of Health NZ
- Cough in adults – Health Navigator NZ
- Cough – Patient
- What Does My Type of Cough Mean? – Healthline
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