Updated 15 August 2018

Types of cough

It is important to know what type of cough you have in order to treat it properly.

To treat a cough, it’s important to determine the cause. Different types of cough suggest different causes.

Your doctor will invariably ask what comes up when you cough (and would even want to see it!), how much you cough per day, and what colour the sputum is.

Dry cough

Dry coughs are usually caused by airway irritants, exacerbations of asthma, smoking, certain drugs like ACE inhibitors, some infections in the early stages and chronic lung disease such as pulmonary fibrosis.

Wet cough

Wet coughs are often caused by an infective process: commonly due to bronchitis, pneumonia or tuberculosis. A very common cause is a post-nasal drip (which may follow a common cold). Heart failure with “fluid on the lungs” may also result in a “wet cough”. The volume of what comes up, and when you cough, are important to note when going to see your doctor.

“Cough hygiene” is an important aspect of managing a cough – covering your mouth when you cough and/or coughing into your sleeve or a tissue is very important. This is vital in a country such as South Africa which has a high TB rate, as TB is spread by coughing droplets of sputum infected with TB organisms into the air.

No matter what the cause might be, always be sure to cover your mouth. 

Read more:
What is a cough

Reviewed by Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. MBChB, MRCP(UK), Dip HIV(Man), MMED, FCP(SA), Cert Pulm(SA), PhD. February 2018.


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Professor Keertan Dheda has received several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others. Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute.

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