What Is the Difference Between Wet Cough and Dry Cough?
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Wet Cough and Dry Cough - Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Aug 25, 2022 and last reviewed on Sep 16, 2022   -  5 min read


The throat irritation causes a dry or wet cough. Read the article below to learn about the difference between dry and wet cough.


The body expels the irritant in the form of a cough. When a foreign body irritates the throat, nerve signals are sent to the brain. The brain responds and contracts the breathing muscles to expel cough. A cough is a defense mechanism against smoke, pollutants, and allergens. Cough is a symptom of many respiratory illnesses. The systemic condition can be identified with the characteristic of cough - dry cough or wet cough.

What Is a Dry Cough?

A dry cough is considered to be an unproductive cough as it does not produce mucus. There is a tickling sensation in the throat, which triggers coughing. Dry cough is difficult to control, and severe cough can result in fits. It occurs due to an upper respiratory tract infection. The cough is present for a few weeks, even after the recovery from the flu.

What Are the Causes of Dry Cough?

The causes of dry cough are as follows;

  • Croup - The vocal cords are affected by a viral infection and end in breathing difficulties along with a dry cough. There is a constant cough. It mostly affects children.

  • Asthma - The respiratory illness due to allergens causes asthma. Wheezing is the initial symptom. Severe asthma attacks result in dry cough. Few individuals produce mucus in asthmatic episodes.

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease - It occurs due to the transfer of food contents from the stomach to the esophagus. It causes a burning sensation in the chest and throat. Eventually, the regurgitation causes a chronic cough.

  • Laryngitis - The overuse of the voice box results in irritation of the vocal cords. It occurs due to viral or bacterial infection. Laryngitis makes the throat dry, and the normal voice changes into a hoarse voice. This irritation in the throat develops a dry cough for several weeks.

  • Tonsillitis - The tonsils are present on both sides of the throat. These tonsils act as a defense against infections and prevent them from entering the body. The inflammation of the tonsil causes throat infection and produces a dry cough.

  • Sinusitis - The issues in the air cavity present on the sides of the cheeks, eyes, and forehead results in sinusitis. The inflammation in the air cavity generates a lingering cough.

How to Diagnose a Dry Cough?

The dry cough is usually diagnosed using symptoms and past medical history. Physical examination is usually performed by medical professionals to examine the dry cough. The severity and frequency of chronic dry cough are monitored.

What Are the Treatment Measures for Dry Cough?

The dry cough is treated by the following measures;

  • Natural Remedy - Honey is the best natural ingredient to treat dry cough. It soothes down the irritated tissue lining present in the throat.

  • Lozenges - The throat appears dry and irritated due to a dry cough. Lozenges are used to soothe the throat and stay moistened.

  • Medication - The cough reflex can be controlled by cough suppressants. The commonly used medication for suppressing cough is Dextromethorphan.

What Is a Wet Cough?

A wet cough arises after the flu due to bacterial or viral infection. The normal respiratory tract is lined by a mucous membrane. It produces more mucus due to irritants and is known as a productive cough. The excess mucus present in the lungs is expelled during a wet cough. It lasts for three to four weeks.

What Are the Causes of Wet Cough?

  • Pneumonia - Due to pneumonia, the lungs are affected by microbial infection. The inflammation in air sacs results in pus formation. A wet cough removes the phlegm from the lungs.

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - The air sacs are destroyed along with the narrowing of bronchi. If the disease progresses to a severe stage, it interferes with the breathing mechanism. There is a recurring cough with the phlegm.

  • Cystic Fibrosis - It occurs in infants due to genetic respiratory illness. The mucus appears thick and sticky. It is a life-threatening disease and damages the bronchi and air sacs.

  • Whooping Cough - The viral infection in children causes whooping cough with phlegm. The child gasps for air due to an uncontrollable cough.

How Is Wet Cough Diagnosed?

  • Chest X-Rays - The extent of the lung inflammation can be observed using X-rays. The pus collection in the lungs is identified in the radiographic image. The abnormality in the lungs is visualized.

  • Pulmonary Function Test - The severity of respiratory infections in the lungs is determined with the help of a pulmonary function test. Spirometry detects the working efficiency of the lungs during inhalation and forceful exhalation. The results are obtained in two to three days.

  • Sputum Test - The mucus is obtained during a wet cough. It is used as a sample for culture tests. Positive results reveal the presence of respiratory infection in the lungs.

What Are the Various Treatment Methods for Wet Cough?

  • Airway Clearance Devices - The mucus should be expelled to ease the airflow. Positive expiratory pressure (PEP) delivers pressure under vibration and eliminates phlegm. It is effective against a wet cough.

  • Mucolytics - Mucolytics are prescribed by the medical professional to thin the mucus. The phlegm becomes less sticky and is expelled out. Steam inhalation makes the mucus thin and gives relief to the nose and throat.

  • Medications - The bronchodilators are prescribed to widen the air passages for airflow. Medications like Acetaminophen are used to reduce body pain and fatigue. Decongestants like Phenylephrine are used to clear the air passages. It also reduces the nose block and aids breathing. Chlorpheniramine is used as an antihistamine against allergic reactions.

  • Humidifier - The cool mist humidifier is used for the children to ease their breathing mechanism. It reduces the wet cough during the night and encourages sleep. Saline nasal drops can also be used to clear stuffy noses in children.

How Is Dry Cough Differentiated From Wet Cough?

  • The throat becomes itchy and dry due to dry cough whereas there is mild to no itching in wet cough.

  • Dry cough increases during dehydration and causes discomfort. The patient has pain near the throat or chest due to effort produced during wet cough.

  • In dry cough, the patient is not aware of the underlying conditions or causes like GERD, air conditioners, or medications (ACE inhibitors). A wet cough is produced due to the presence of a foreign body in the lungs causing systemic diseases.


Cough is usually recovered within two weeks. A dry barking cough is difficult to manage and affects sleep. Patients with severe coughs with weight loss or fever must seek the help of a medical professional. If there is blood discharge during a cough, the patient should be admitted to the emergency room. The treatment depends on the cause and type of cough.

Last reviewed at:
16 Sep 2022  -  5 min read




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