What is a cough?

A cough is a natural protective reflex that helps clear excess mucus or inhaled irritants (dust, microorganisms, smoke) from the respiratory tract.5 It is one of the most common symptoms of a viral infection (e.g. cold / flu) however it can also be a symptom of other conditions such as asthma, allergies, croup, whooping cough etc.5-7

Coughs associated with colds are not just restricted to wintertimes but could strike at any time of the year. The average adult experiences up to 2-3 colds with a cough a year, whereas children can develop between 7-10 colds with a cough a year.8,9

A cough can last a few days or persist for weeks at a time. In a study involving pre-school children it states that it can take up to 25 days for 90% of children to recover from an acute cough.10,11

It can be very distressing, tiring and can affect a person’s daily functioning. It can also cause sleep deprivation, poor concentration or productivity at work or school and even fatigue.12

Coughs can be very confusing and difficult to distinguish from each other. There are generally 2 main types of cough: a dry cough (also called non-productive), and a wet cough (also called productive).5

Dry cough

  • Dry, tickling or irritating
  • No mucus or phlegm is produced
  • Can be persistent

Wet cough

  • Wet with mucus or phlegm
  • Can be felt in the chest (chesty cough)

The Cough Cycle

During a cold or flu, a cough might not necessarily be only one type (only a dry or wet cough). A cough associated with a cold or flu can change from dry to wet and back to dry again in a matter of days. It usually starts with a dry, irritating cough, without phlegm and as the infection progresses, the cough can become wet, with thick and sticky mucus or phlegm being produced. As the illness resolves, residual coughing may remain, which is generally dry and irritating.5,10,13-16

  • This diagram represents the relative stages of cough associated with colds/flu
  • Should a cough persist for more than 5 days, please consult your healthcare professional