Types of Cough and Their Differences

The cough reflex is one of the body’s best defense mechanisms. Irritation or obstruction in the airways activates this reflex, and the strong rush of air helps clear material from the breathing passages.

Types of Cough

Productive: A cough is more helpful if it is producing and expelling something, such as pus. This kind of cough is termed productive and usually should not be suppressed by drugs.

Dry Cough: Minor irritations in the throat can start the cough reflex even though normal mucus is the only material to be expelled. This is called a dry cough.

Mucus from the nasal passages can drain into the throat and lungs (post-nasal drip) and trigger the cough reflex. Such coughs are not helpful and may be treated with cough suppressants.


In diagnosing the cause of a cough, it is important to notice details about the cough. Detailed history, including associated symptoms is required. This would include:

  • Is fever present?
  • Does cough bring up mucus or pus?
  • Any pain in the chest?
  • Does it increase at any point of the day?
  • Influence of activity on cough.
  • Frequency and duration of cough.

A cough that is caused by bronchitis or similar infection commonly lasts for up to 2 weeks. However, a cough that persists longer than this should be evaluated by the health care provider.

Ominous Signs to Watch For

A cough may occasionally indicate a serious condition. Look for the following signs:

  • When blood is coughed up.
  • When it is accompanied by chest pain.
  • When there is difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
  • If there is also an unintentional weight loss.

Here you can read further about the common causes of cough.

Medical Advice (Q&As) on “Types of Cough and Their Differences

  1. Y narayan

    I am coughing for more than 5 weeks. It is just like cleaning of throat. I do not cough for a long. It started when I had gastric then. Should I be worried?

  2. blessing

    does GERD cause constant dry cough, shortness of breath, and body weakness have been having these symptons for the past 6months and on pantoprazole 40mg and gaviscon but does not seem to change

    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      GERD may give you constant cough. Typically, GERD induced cough is more pronounced when you lie down on bed, as during night sleep. It may cause body weakness as well.

      It’s unlikely to cause shortness of breath.


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