man walking down the street coughing

Cough Causes

When you start coughing, the first thing you think about is how to make it go away. However, the treatment you need depends on what kind of cough you have. Furthermore, the kind of cough you have depends on what’s causing your cough. Here’s a look at a few common causes of wet and dry coughs. 

Dry Cough

A dry cough is one without any mucus or phlegm coming up. Dry coughs often accompany viral infections, such as the common cold, the flu, and other upper respiratory tract infections. Whooping cough is a particular kind of dry cough. Also called pertussis, this infection is characterized by an almost violent, extended cough that starts out as a normal cold, but turns into a hacking cough followed by a “whooping” noise on the inhale. Epidemics of whooping cough occur every 3-5 years; it can be especially dangerous to little ones, so make sure to get vaccinated if you work or live with infants. 

A dry cough may also be a side effect of medication. If you take ACE inhibitors, often used to control blood pressure, and have developed a dry cough with few others symptoms, talk to your doctor about your medication. 

Wet Cough

A wet cough is when you cough up mucus or phlegm almost every time you cough. Many times, the cough may start dry and become wet within a few days. Bacterial infections, like pneumonia, may result in a wet cough. Additionally, bronchitis, a common complication of respiratory infections, can also be a wet cough culprit. Wet coughs erupt when your body is creating more phlegm (produced by airways) and mucus (produced by the sinuses). Mucus is made because its job is to filter and protect. By creating more, your body is attempting to filter out the pathogens, dust, or whatever else might be causing your cough.

Chronic Cough

Wet coughs can also be the result of dried out sinuses. Your body recognizes this and begins creating more. In exchange, you have extra mucus dripping down the back of your throat and causing a cough. This is called post nasal drip, and it can be the result not only of dryness, but allergies or non-allergic rhinitis. Other diseases that cause a chronic wet cough include asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In both cases, the airways can become inflamed making breathing difficult, and often producing excessive expectorants. 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a sort of chronic acid reflux, is another extremely common culprit of chronic coughs. In fact, almost half of chronic coughs are caused by GERD. The frequent reflux of so much acid can damage the esophagus. In most cases, GERD causes coughing when you lay down for the night. This allows stomach acid to rise more easily because of the tilted position, and the spasms of the airways as acid rises can cause a cough. Eating can also make coughing more likely for GERD sufferers. You may even be inhaling particles that are damaging the lungs. If you develop a dry hack every night and experience frequent heartburn symptoms, talk to your doctor about GERD. 

Last Updated: December 01, 2016