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Difference between dry and productive cough

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Coughing is a body’s defense mechanism that protects the respiratory tract from infectious agents such as dust or dirt. When we have a lot of coughs, we think we are sick, but we always associate it with a cold, flu, or illness in the lungs. However, knowing how to differentiate the type of cough can help us make a better diagnosis, and when you go to the doctor, it will be beneficial to be specific about the kind of cough. There are mainly two types of cough: dry and productive. The former does not produce phlegm or mucus, unlike the productive cough. The treatment of each cough will also depend on its type, so it is essential to know how to differentiate them. In this FastlyHealarticle, we tell you the Difference between a dry and productive cough and the treatment for each of them.

How to know if I have a dry cough

Dry cough, also known as irritative, does not produce mucus or phlegm discharge. It is produced by an irritation or inflammation of the throat or respiratory tract caused by a virus or bacteria or by external agents that act as irritants. The body reacts to this inflammation in the same way as if there were an excess of secretions and therefore tries to expel it out by coughing.

It can be acute if it lasts less than three weeks or chronic if it lasts longer. It usually lasts longer than the productive cough because, in this case, no mucus or phlegm is expelled, and therefore the bacteria are not eliminated, or the area is cleared. This type of cough usually sounds harsh and sometimes seems like a bark.

Causes of dry cough

Dry coughs are caused by irritation or inflammation of the throat or upper respiratory tract, and this can be due to several causes :

  • This type of cough is prevalent in colds or flu. Since the infection can appear in the upper respiratory tract (nasal passages, mouth, pharynx, or larynx), when a cold approaches, it is very likely that a dry cough will appear.
  • It can also occur due to an allergic reaction as a response of the immune system.
  • Foreign agents such as dirt, dust, gases, or even chemical vapors can produce a dry cough since these substances will enter and irritate the throat.
  • Some medications have this dry cough as a side effect. If this happens, it is best to consult your doctor for a possible change in medication.
  • Irritation of the airways, such as inflammation of the larynx ( laryngitis ), trachea (tracheitis), or bronchial tubes ( bronchitis ), produces an irritating or dry cough.
  • It may be due to a tumor in the area.
  • Asthma produces this type of dry cough with no runny nose. However, you have to know how to differentiate it. Asthma cough is accompanied by shortness of breath and a feeling of suffocation on the part of the person who suffers from it.
  • Heart failure can cause this type of cough due to a lack of oxygen.

Dry cough can also have psychic origins, in which case it is called a psychogenic irritant cough or a nervous cough. It usually appears suddenly in the form of attacks and lasts for a few hours. In this case, some people also clear their throats. It intensifies with the emotions; when there is emotional tension, it ceases during sleep hours. When no organic cause produces the dry cough, it can be a tic or functional disorder.

How to know if I have a productive cough

Unlike the dry or irritating cough, the productive cough does produce expectoration of mucus or phlegm. This phlegm or mucus is formed in the airways, and the body tries to eliminate them through the sun, causing them to be coughed up at home. The good thing about this type of cough is that the airways are cleared by expelling mucus. It is essential to expel this phlegm since they contain microbes and particles that cause the disease.

Mucus forms a protective system for the respiratory mucosa and acts against external agents or infections, protecting the body. When there is an infection of the respiratory tract, on many occasions, the mucus increases its levels as a defense, and this causes it to decrease its elasticity and increase its viscosity; that is why we can find green slime thicker than usual when there is an infection. However, an excess of mucus in the airways can cause them to become obstructed, and then coughing appears as a mechanism to eliminate this excess.

When we have a productive cough, the main symptom is the appearance of phlegm when coughing, but we can also detect other signs such as:

  • Sticky mucus
  • Wheezing or sounds when you breathe or cough. They can sound like snoring.
  • The appearance of mucus in the airways obstructing them makes us feel a tightness or pain in the chest.
  • The cough may worsen in the morning since no phlegm has been expelled during sleep.
  • It may be accompanied by a fever or general malaise due to the infection.

Causes of productive cough

On many occasions, when there is a cold or flu in its initial phase, a dry cough appears, but over time it can turn into a productive cough due to mucus production. Inflammation of the upper respiratory tract increases the production of mucus, which is also thicker and dense and falls through the nose to the pharynx, stagnating it.

The most common causes of a productive cough are:

  • Cold or flu, as we have seen, a dry cough can become productive or appear directly. Infections are the most common causes, whether they are viral or bacterial.
  • Acute infectious diseases of the respiratory tract are usually chronic. Illness in the trachea, bronchi, or lungs can cause mucus production to increase. For example, pneumonia or bronchitis can cause a productive cough.

Differences between dry and productive cough

As we have seen, the main Difference between the two is mucus secretion. A dry cough does not produce expectoration, unlike a productive cough. However, they also differ in the way of coughing and symptoms. A productive cough will also cause chest pain or tightness from infection and mucus. However, a dry cough does not produce these symptoms, although it can cause a sore throat.

The dry cough sounds loud, like barking, and as the name suggests, it sounds dry. The productive cough sounds different; it’s what we call a chest-grabbing cough.

Although infections can cause both, the dry cough is more common when there is irritation or inflammation, and the productive cough is usually of bacterial origin.

How to treat dry cough and productive cough

Treatment of dry cough

Treatment will depend on the type of cough you have, and the medications will be different. It will also depend on the causes that have caused it. The treatment of dry cough is focused on the grounds, for example, the cold or the flu. However, it can be a very annoying cough and even interrupt sleep. For this reason, in addition to medications to treat the cause, antitussive syrups can be offered. These help to calm the urge to cough, although they can cause drowsiness, and care must be taken, always following the indications indicated on the leaflet. Some non-pharmacological agents will also help, such as a humidifier, which will make the environment less stuffy and help you breathe better.

In the following article you will find the best home remedies for a dry cough.

Treatment of productive cough

Productive coughs, meanwhile, are treated with mucolytic syrups that help expel mucus. Expectorants help break down mucus and make it easier to pass. Therefore, it is not a treatment to eliminate the cough but rather to help it expel all the mucus inside. A productive cough does not have to be eliminated as it helps clear the airways.

At FastlyHealwe, explain how to treat a cough with phlegm with home remedies.

It is essential to keep the body hydrated and drink plenty of fluids, be it a dry or productive cough. If the cough continues, we explain when to go to the doctor for a cough despite that.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar on the Difference between dry and productive cough , we recommend that you enter our Lung and respiratory tract category .

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