A cough can be a truly miserable problem to deal with. Not only can coughing irritate your throat and cause it to be sore and uncomfortable, but coughing can also disrupt your sleep, leaving you tired and lethargic.
There are many different kinds of coughs, and being able to identify them can help you to decide whether you need to seek medical advice. The easiest way to determine what type of cough you have is to pay attention to how it sounds and how it affects your body.
Here are some common types of cough, what causes them and when you should see a doctor.
WHAT IS A COUGH?
Coughing is a natural method the body uses to remove irritants from the airways. When an irritant enters your airways, your nervous system automatically sends a signal to your brain. This signal sets a response in motion — telling your brain to contract the muscles in your chest and abdomen, in an attempt to expel the irritant.
Coughing is a vital defensive reflex that can protect your airways from irritants such as dust, mucus, and smoke. Coughing is a primary symptom of many respiratory conditions, infections and viruses.
WHAT IS A DRY COUGH?
A dry cough is caused by irritation or inflammation of the airways; however, it does not bring up any mucus. Dry coughs often feel like a tickle in the throat and are a symptom of many upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold and the flu.
Some dry coughs also make a high-pitched “wheezy” sound, which can be frightening to hear. Wheezing is caused by inflamed or narrowed airways, and can sometimes be a symptom of a severe breathing problem that requires medical attention.
WHAT IS A WET COUGH?
A wet cough is often described as a chesty cough and is accompanied by mucus or phlegm. Wet coughs are typically the result of an illness, such as the common cold or a chest infection. If you find yourself suffering from a wet cough and also coughing up mucus that is bloody or resembles coffee grounds, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Common causes of wet coughs include pneumonia, COPD, and bronchiectasis. Wet coughs can be eased by staying hydrated and helping the cough to be productive. If you have a respiratory infection, you may also require antibiotics.
WHAT IS CROUP?
Croup is a condition that irritates the upper airways causing them to swell. This results in a loud cough that often described as sounding like a high-pitched seal or dog bark. Croup can also cause difficulty breathing and a hoarse and raspy voice.
If your child is showing symptoms of croup, it’s important to also look out for stridor, a high-pitched breathing sound that indicates an obstruction of the airways. Seek medical advice immediately if your child is having difficulty breathing, turning blue, develops a fever, or appears listless.
SHOULD I SEE A DOCTOR FOR A COUGH?
Coughs are a symptom of many conditions, including the common cold and seasonal allergies, and although most coughs go away on their own, sometimes it’s necessary to seek the advice of your doctor.
If your cough causes difficulty breathing, a fever, lasts several weeks, causes you to cough up blood, or does not respond to your usual respiratory medication, you should seek medical advice.
You should seek prompt emergency care if you cannot catch your breath, begin to turn blue, have an obstruction in your windpipe, or need to use the muscles of your ribs for breathing.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Coughing can be painful and scary, but it’s your body’s natural reaction to irritation in the airways. In most cases, coughs will clear on their own with home treatment; however, if your cough is very painful, or doesn’t go away, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider.