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Dry Coughs vs Chesty Coughs: What's the Difference?

Dry Coughs vs Chesty Coughs: What's the Difference?

If you or your little one has developed a cough, have you stopped to think about what kind of cough you've come down with?

Lifestyle insight
Reading time: 5 minutes

A cough isn’t just uncomfortable and irritating - it can also make you very unpopular! Coughs are most often caused by a viral infection, so it’s important to take action right away.  

But to do that, you first have to figure out what type of cough it is. 

There are many different types of cough, but they can generally be categorised as either dry or chesty. Treating a chesty cough is slightly different from treating a dry cough, as we’re about to explain.  

First, a quick 101 on coughing: did you know that a cough is a natural defence mechanism of your immune system? Your cough reflex is initiated when the cells lining your air passages become irritated by mucus (during a cold or flu) or certain irritants (things you breathe in). Coughing is your body’s way of trying to clear these substances out.1  

What are the different types of cough? 

Coughs come in several different forms, but the most common include dry, chesty, paroxysmal and croup.  

The main difference between dry and chesty cough is the presence of mucus - that thin, gooey stuff that comes from your nose and sinuses. 

A dry cough is non-productive, which means there is no or very little mucus. A chesty cough is productive, which means you might feel mucus congestion in your chest as well as coughing it up.  

A paroxysmal cough is a sudden, uncontrollable coughing episode that can be quite violent or painful, and might leave you feeling exhausted. Whooping cough is an example of a paroxysmal cough.  

Croup is a serious type of cough caused by a viral infection that causes inflammation in the airway. Children aged five and under are most at risk of croup because their narrower airways mean that a respiratory infection makes breathing even more difficult. A croup cough has a harsh, barking sound. Both paroxysmal coughs and croup are serious conditions that can lead to further complications, so it’s best to see a health professional if you or your child have these symptoms.   

How can you tell which cough you may have? 

Identifying the type of cough you have can help you deal with it effectively. Let’s go into a bit more detail.  

What is a chesty cough? 

A chesty cough (also known as a ‘wet’ cough) is productive, which means you’re coughing up mucus and phlegm. This is your body’s way of preventing mucus from ending up in your lungs, which can lead to a much more serious infection.   

Mucus in the chest is most often caused by a common viral infection like a cold or flu, and it can be yellow or green in colour. It can make your chest feel heavy and tight. 

Chesty coughs can also be caused by more serious illnesses like bronchitis or lung irritation from environmental pollutants.  

Symptoms of a chesty cough 

  • Coughing up mucus 
  • Wheezing when you breathe in 
  • A “wet” sound from mucus in your airways 
  • Runny nose, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing  
  • Sore chest  
  • Worse in the morning 

Causes of a chesty cough 

A chesty cough is most often caused by an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) such as the common cold or flu.2 Along with the typical cold and flu symptoms of runny nose, sore throat, and fever, these infections can irritate the airways and cause mucus to run down your throat. Coughing is your body’s way of keeping this mucus out of your lungs, which can cause more serious illness.  
Chesty cough can also result from more serious conditions, such as a chest infection, chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, asthma, or allergic reactions. A wheezy cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath can indicate a chest infection. This is why it’s so important to assess your symptoms and determine what might be causing your cough.  

How long does a chesty cough last? 

Coughs usually start on the second or third day of a cold. It’s quite normal for a cough to linger on after other cold symptoms have cleared up, which can be around 10 to 14 days.3  

It’s important to consider all your symptoms and identify what might be causing your chesty cough. A chest infection can last much longer than a cough caused by a URTI, and may require different treatment.  

A cough is acute if it lasts fewer than three weeks, while a cough that lasts between three to eight weeks is subacute. A chronic cough is one that continues for more than eight weeks.4 

The longer a cough lasts, the more likely it is that there may be a more serious cause than irritation or infection. If your cough hasn’t improved within three weeks, it’s best to see your doctor.  

How to get rid of a chesty cough 

While there’s no “cure” for a chesty or dry cough, there are some ways to relieve your symptoms or reduce the duration of a chesty cough at home. And that doesn’t have to mean taking medication! People have been using natural remedies to treat coughs for centuries. Some are still used today - like ivy leaf. 

Prospan cough formula  

The climbing ivy plant - known botanically as Hedera helix - is one of the best known treatments for chesty cough. There are a few different ivy leaf cough formulas available these days, but one that’s been clinically proven to relieve chesty cough is EA 575®.  

EA 575® is a patented form of ivy leaf extract used in the SFI Health Prospan cough formula range. This unique extract has been produced by a patented extraction process based on extensive research and expertise. Numerous clinical trials show that EA 575® relieves chest coughs in not one but five ways. It loosens and clears mucus in the chest so that it’s easier to cough up; it soothes irritated airways, and it reduces inflammation in the chest so that it’s easier to breathe. The incredible expectorant properties of EA 575® means that it helps both kids and adults get back to feeling better sooner.5,6  

Fill up on fluids 

Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water, juice, soups, and other healthy liquids. If you have a sore throat, gargle with warm salt water (about 1 teaspoon of salt per cup) up to three times a day to help ease the swelling.  

Rest up 

Keep warm, get plenty of rest, and stay at home to reduce the risk of passing on your infection. Try to avoid intense exercise or other physical activity until your symptoms improve.  

What is a dry cough? 

A dry cough is unproductive, which means there is no mucus. Dry coughs can be caused by a reaction to something that you’ve breathed in, like pollen, dust, or even just cold air. They can also be caused by a cold or flu virus, a throat infection. 

Inflammation in your upper airways can make a dry cough feel tickly and painful. This type of cough can also be quite persistent, and is often worse during the day. Prolonged coughing can lead to a sore throat and chest because you’re only coughing up air, not mucus. 

Signs & symptoms of a dry cough 

  • No mucus 
  • Tickly feeling in the chest 
  • Stubborn, persistent coughing 
  • Usually worse during the daytime 

Causes of a dry cough 

A dry cough can also be caused by cold or flu, and this is the most common cause. But they can also result from chronic conditions such as asthma or allergic reactions. Dry coughs may also be triggered by cold or dry air.  

How long does a dry cough last? 

Depending on the cause, a dry cough can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. If it is caused by a cold or flu virus, it will clear up as your body recovers from the infection.  

How to get rid of a dry cough 

As with any cough, a dry cough often has to run its course. However, there are some ways to help relieve the irritation and reduce your coughing.  

At-home steam treatment 

Steam or vapor can help to soothe a dry throat and irritated airways. Try filling a pot with hot water and breathing in the steam. You can also fill your bathroom or shower with steam by turning on the hot water and breathing in.  

Keep hydrated 

Drinking plenty of warm, nourishing fluids can help to lubricate your airways and support your body’s ability to fight the infection. Try adding a little manuka honey to a hot cup of herbal tea: manuka honey can be effective in supporting immune defences. 

Can you have  a dry and chesty cough at the same time? 

No. A dry cough doesn't produce mucus, while a chesty cough does. But both can be treated with a cough formula from the Prospan range, especially when it comes to calming those inflamed airways.  




01 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6502102

02 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532961/

03 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7875114/

04 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493221/

05 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25234924/

06 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00228-021-03090-4

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