Whether it’s during a meeting, while you’re asleep or when you’re trying to pay attention to your favourite show – coughing is annoying. But it does have an important role to play. Coughing is a natural reflex action to irritation in your throat or airways, with the purpose of clearing them of mucus or any irritants

This irritation can be caused by different things. Breathing in dust or smoke can cause coughing, and so can short-term illnesses like colds and infections in the airway or long-term health conditions such as asthma or COPD.

What kind of cough you have can be determined by how it sounds and feels, so here’s a handy guide on the different types and what to do when you have a cough.

What kind of cough you have can be determined by how it sounds and feels, so here’s a handy guide on the different types and what to do when you have a cough.

Chesty cough

There are different types of cough, but generally, there are two types of coughs that can be caused by infections such as colds and flu; chesty or dry. You may sometimes hear these being called productive and non-productive coughs. As the name suggests, a chesty cough is one that produces thick mucus.

This mucus is made by your lungs and respiratory system every day to help moisturise and protect it from irritants, but when your airways are irritated, this production of mucus can go into turbo mode. Then, your coughing reflex kicks in to try to clear the congestion. The symptoms of a chesty cough can include:

  • A raspy or wet-sounding cough
  • It might feel like your throat is sometimes blocked
  • Sometimes you will cough up the mucus
  • You may get a sore throat that is worse in the morning

Dry cough

Dry coughs are sometimes known as tickly coughs because of that dry, scratchy feeling in your throat caused by inflammation. Dry coughs can have similar underlying causes to chesty coughs, but unlike chesty coughs, they do not produce excessive mucus.

As such, the symptoms can be a little bit different:

  • A tickly feeling in your throat due to the irritation in your airways
  • Hacking coughs
  • A sore throat from excessive coughing

Coughs in children

It can be especially distressing as a parent if a cough is causing your little one upset or discomfort. While children experience dry coughs and chesty coughs that usually clear up in 1-2 weeks, there are others that are worth knowing the symptoms of that may need further treatment.

Croup cough

This usually affects babies and young children and will often be accompanied by cold-like symptoms like a temperature and runny nose. Croup causes a distinctive barking cough that sounds like a seal and a rasping sound when breathing in. While Croup is usually mild, it’s recommended that you contact your doctor right away.

Whooping cough

This highly contagious cough is caused by a bacterial infection. It can affect anyone but can be more serious for babies and young children.

At first, your child will present cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, red and watery eyes, sore throat and a slightly raised temperature – which will be followed by intense coughing bouts that last for a few minutes and usually bring up thick mucus.

These may be more intense at night and between coughs, your child may gasp for breath – which may cause a ‘whoop’ sound, although not always. If your child also has a very high temperature or they feel hot and shivery, you should contact your doctor.


For most coughs that don’t require further treatment, there are some simple remedies you can try to help ease the symptoms:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
  • Try to keep your head elevated to ease discomfort
  • A steamy bath or shower can help to loosen congestion for chesty coughs
  • Medications such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help with fever and pain – but always check suitability of use with your HCP
  • Try our Cough & Sore Throat Syrups, available for adults and children, which contains honey, ivy leaf, and glycerol that help soothe the irritation and calm the urge to cough.

When to seek help

While coughs aren’t usually anything to worry about, it’s recommended by the NHS that you should speak to a GP or healthcare professional if you or your child has any of the following:

  • A cough that has lasted for more than three weeks
  • A raised temperature
  • A particularly severe cough or one with chest pain
  • Breathing difficulties or shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Other worrying symptoms such as weight loss, lumps or swellings, a persistent change in voice, or feeling very unwell

Whatever type of cough you or your child has, knowing the symptoms and signs to look out for can help you decide whether to contact a healthcare professional and what home remedies can help you and your family feel soothed and relieved.


1. Widdicombe, J. (2006) ‘Cough: What’s in a Name?’, European Respiratory Journal, 28(1), pp.10–15. Available at: https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/28/1/10.short (Accessed 23 March 2023).

2. Chung, K.F. and Pavord, I.D. (2008) ‘Prevalence, Pathogenesis, and Causes of Chronic Cough’, The Lancet, 371(9621), 1364–1374. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0140673608605954 (Accessed 23 March 2023).

3. Sharan, R.V. (2022) ‘Productive and Non-Productive Cough Classification Using Biologically Inspired Techniques’, IEEE Access, 10, 133958-133968. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/9997513 (Accessed 23 March 2023).

4. Smith, D.K., McDermott, A.J. and Sullivan, J.F. (2018) ‘Croup: Diagnosis and Management’, American Family Physician, 97(9), 575–580. Available at: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2018/0501/p575.html. (Accessed 23 March 2023).

5. Wang, K., Bettiol, S., Thompson, M.J. et al (2014) ‘Symptomatic Treatment of the Cough in Whooping Cough’. Available at: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003257.pub5/full (Accessed 23 February 2023).

6. NHS. (2021) ‘Cough’. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cough/ (Accessed 23 February 2023).

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