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Four types of coughs and when to seek treatment

  • Coughing is your body’s way to clear an irritant from your throat, airway and lungs.
  • The four main types of coughs are: wet, dry, paroxysmal and croup.
  • Most coughs do go away on their own. Home remedies and over-the-counter cough medicines can help relieve symptoms.

Coughing is your body’s way to clear an irritant from your throat, airway and lungs and can be categorized into four main types:

  • wet
  • dry
  • paroxysmal
  • croup.

Coughing can protect you from smoke, mucus, dust and pollen. But a cough can also signal an illness or severe health condition. Keep reading to learn how you can tell what kind of cough you have, how to treat it at home and when you should seek treatment from a health care provider.

1. Wet cough

This kind of cough sounds wet because it brings up mucus. More commonly known as a “productive” cough, it can be “acute,” lasting less than three weeks, or “chronic,” lasting up to several months.

A wet cough is a normal symptom of:

When to get treatment for a wet cough

Most wet coughs do go away on their own. Home remedies and over-the-counter cough medicines can help relieve symptoms. Contact your provider if the cough lasts longer than three weeks or you are:

  • coughing up thick, yellow-green mucus
  • short of breath or are wheezing
  • have a high fever
  • have minor chest pain.

2. Dry cough

A dry cough feels like a tickle in the back of your throat. It can also lead to bouts of long, hacking coughing. It usually does not bring up mucus. Dry coughs can be caused by inflammation in your respiratory system. This kind of cough can linger for several weeks after the end of your cold or flu.

A dry cough can be a symptom of:

When to get treatment for a dry cough

Most dry coughs do go away on their own. Home remedies and over-the-counter cough medicines can help relieve symptoms.

Think your cough could be something more serious? Get care now.

3. Paroxysmal cough

A paroxysmal cough is violent and uncontrolled coughing that is exhausting and painful. You may struggle to breathe and may even vomit. Pertussis or whooping cough is the most common cause of a paroxysmal cough. Other causes include:

  • asthma
  • choking
  • COPD
  • pneumonia
  • tuberculosis

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When to get treatment for a paroxysmal cough

Pertussis (whooping cough) is contagious but can be difficult to diagnose early on when symptoms are similar to a cold. If your symptoms get worse after one to two weeks, and you develop a painful and exhausting cough, you should contact a health care provider. You can treat pertussis with prescribed antibiotics.

If you get whooping cough, your family or others you come into close contact with should talk with a health care provider to determine if treatment is needed. Pertussis can be especially dangerous to infants who have not yet received a Tdap vaccination.

4. Croup cough

Croup is a viral infection that causes irritation and swelling in the upper airway, making it difficult to breathe. A croup cough has a distinctive “barking” sound and can cause a raspy voice and squeaky breathing. Croup usually affects children 5 and younger. Croup is typically contagious for up to three days after symptoms begin or the fever breaks. Croup usually does not impact adults whose airways are larger than a child’s.

When to get treatment for a croup cough

Although croup can be scary for both kids and parents, it usually clears up on its own in less than a week. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend (Tylenol®) or prescribe steroids or nebulizer treatment.

Talk to your health care provider if your child’s croup gets worse or their cough lasts longer than three weeks and your child is:

  • coughing up thick, yellow-green mucus
  • short of breath or are wheezing
  • have a high fever
  • have minor chest pain.

At-home remedies for a cough

No matter what kind of cough you have, here are some home remedies to try:

  • look for over-the-counter cough syrups that contain thyme
  • suck on cough drops or throat lozenges
  • gargle with salt water 4 to 5 times a day
  • increase moisture in the air or take a warm shower or bath to help loosen mucus
  • drink lots of water or warm beverages
  • add natural ingredients to your water that are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, or can help thin mucus, including: black pepper, ­cinnamon, ­clove, honey, garlic, ginger, lemon, marshmallow root, peppermint, ­slippery elm, ­thyme and ­turmeric.

Home remedies for croup

Croup often runs its course in about a week. In the meantime, you can keep your child comfortable with these home remedies:

  • drink lots of water
  • get plenty of rest
  • use a cool-mist humidifier
  • bring your child into a steam-filled bathroom for 10 minutes
  • bring your child outside to breathe in some cool air.

Think your cough could be something more serious? Get care today.

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