The Cough

There are many different types of coughs. Each type has characteristics that can be used to help identify the cause. A cough may be described as being dry, wet, productive (meaning you cough up mucus and/or sputum), or non-productive. The way a cough sounds can provide an important clue as to what is going on.


A dry cough may be caused by an allergy, cold, flu or the beginning of bronchitis.

A wet, productive cough could be the result of pneumonia, bronchitis, or flu.

A wet, nonproductive cough may suggest a cold, flu, or bronchitis.

A painful cough is seen with pneumonia or bronchitis.

A seal barking sound when coughing is a strong indication of croup.

A chronic cough may be an indicate COPD or GERD (digestive system disease).

Cough and Other Symptoms

To further establish the cause of a cough, your doctor needs to look at the accompanying symptoms. Together, a better picture of your illness emerges. For example:

Cough + fever + chest pain = Pneumonia

Cough + head congestion + fever + shivers + body aches = Flu

Persistent cough + wheezing + shortness of breath + chest tightening = COPD

Dry cough at night + bad breath + hoarseness + sudden increase in saliva = GERD

Bloody cough + fever + night sweats + weight loss = Tuberculosis

When to See Your Doctor?

Most uncomplicated coughs due to cold or flu can be treated at home. There are times, however, when a persistent or severe cough warrants a doctor visit. Generally speaking, you should see a doctor if you:

  • have a cough that has lasts longer than a week
  • have an extremely painful cough
  • are coughing up blood
  • have a persistent fever of 100 F or higher
  • are coughing up yellow, tan, or green mucus
  • have shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest tightness
  • have a history of heart problems
  • have a cough accompanied by night sweats

If  you are coughing up pink, frothy mucus or your child is choking and having trouble breathing or swallowing, go to the ER immediately.

Doctor Visit

Be sure to list all the symptoms you are experiencing no matter how minor and vague they may seem when you meet with your doctor.

The information in this blog post should not be used for a diagnosis. See your healthcare provider for an actual diagnosis.