When talking about different types of coughs, it is usually in terms of how long does a cough last and whether they are dry or productive (producing phlegm). 1,2
A cough may last for weeks in some cases. 1 A cough lasting for less than three weeks is called an acute cough, whereas three to eight weeks is a sub-acute cough and eight weeks or more is a chronic cough.1
A cough is usually a symptom of another illness, such as an upper respiratory tract infection (URTIs).1,3 URTIs are a group of germs (mainly viruses) that can cause a common cold or the flu. 1,4
Coughs can also occur from other conditions that need to be diagnosed by a doctor For any cough that lasts for more than two weeks, or if your cough or other symptoms worry you, see a doctor. 1
In this page we’ll explore a little more around types of coughs, how they might present and some at-home remedies that one can try to try and find some relief from a cough.
Types of Coughs
Let’s look at types of coughs, as well as remedies to help you find some relief.
Coughs from Common Cold vs Coughs from Flu
Both the common cold and the flu are caused by viruses and can present with similar symptoms, including a cough. 3 A cold is often caused by rhinoviruses, and can last up to 14 days for some people. 3,5 When a cold starts to come on, there are usually early symptoms of headache, sneezing, chillness, and sore throat. 3,5 Cough is often one of the later symptoms, alongside stuffy nose and tiredness. 3,5
Influenza or the flu may bring on an early cough, as well as fever, headache, sore throat, tiredness, stuffy nose, weakness, and loss of appetite. 3 Interestingly, an early cough and fever can often be used as an indication of the flu versus other respiratory tract illness. 3 With the flu, it can be the case for some people that a post-infectious cough can last for some time, even though other symptoms have resolved. 6
Productive vs Non-Productive Coughs
The terms productive or non-productive describe whether the cough is wet or dry. 2,7 A wet cough is also called a productive cough and simply means when one coughs, sputum or mucus will be brought up.2,7 A dry cough is – you guessed it – dry, that has no or very little sputum or mucus brought up with the cough. 2
Sometimes a tickle in the throat can be linked to chronic cough (or tickly throat cough).8 A chronic cough can also be set off by an irritating feeling in the chest or throat. 8
If you experience a tickly cough for a long time, or have symptoms that are worrying you, please seek medical advice.
Depending on what’s causing coughing, and how long it is lasting, will usually determine whether it is wet or dry. 1,7
Acute vs Subacute vs Chronic Coughs
How long a cough should last really depends on the cause. For colds and the flu, a cough is usually acute, meaning it should resolve within three week. 3,6 For some people however, there can be a post-infection cough which can persist longer and either become sub-acute or chronic. 6
If your cough has lasted more than a few days, is getting worse (or not getting better), you should go and see your doctor as they will be able to decide the most appropriate treatment.1,9
Natural Relief from Coughs
Having a tickle in the throat that causes a cough can be annoying and disruptive.
But if you are looking for some options to help relieve the discomfort of a cough at home, there are some at-home remedies and methods you can try.1
Honey is one option and might help a cough by helping soothe the throat.1 Try mixing a spoonful in some warm water and sip slowly 10,11 It’s a great easy on-hand option for adults and children from over the age of one year. 1,18
Another at home remedy you can try is to sip some lemon water. 10 Lemons have been used around the world as an at-home remedy for a long time. 11,12 Like honey, lemon water is generally easy to make and use.10 To take, try mixing a few drops of lemon into some warm water and sip before bedtime.
If you have a post-nasal drip, that is mucous dripping down the back of your throat from your nose or sinuses, this might also be setting off your cough. 9,13 If you think this is the case, it's best to speak with your doctor or pharmacist as they will be able to advise on treatment options and other things like changing your sleeping position. 9,13
If a cough is allergy related, triggers can include dust mites, pet fur, droppings or feathers. 14 Regular cleaning with a High-Efficiency Particulate Absorbing (HEPA) vacuum, using fine woven fabric or plastic bedding as well as hot washing bedding at least once a week (55-60 0C) may be helpful. 14,15 Also using a face mask during seasons where there is likely to be more wind and dust about might also offer some benefit .14
Another control for helping reduce allergens is closing windows and doors, using HEPA filtered air conditioning systems, and regularly cleaning surfaces. 14 These controls help reduce the amount of dust, pollen or mould spores in the home. 14
Air purifiers which are HEPA filtered work by capturing large particulate matter that is light enough to float in the air, such as dust, pollen or spores.16 An indoor air purifier or air-conditioner which is HEPA filtered may also help minimise exposure to triggers of cough. 14,16,17
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National Library of medicine. StatPearls Publishing LLC [Internet]. Cough: Treasure island (FL). Last Update: Jan. 2022 [Accessed Oct. 2022]. Access from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493221/
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Peppas DE. Prin. & Prac. of Ped. Infec. Dis. 2018: 199–202.e1
Lin L. et al. Clin Respir J. 2017; 11(6): 733–38. doi: 10.1111/crj.12409
Commonwealth of Australia. Department of Health. Cough. Sept. 2021. [cited August 2022]. Access from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au
Chung KF. Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2011;24(3):267-71. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2011.01.012.
National Library of medicine. StatPearls Publishing LLC [Internet]. Nocturnal Cough: Treasure island (FL). Last Update: Jan. 2022 [Accessed Oct. 2022]. Access from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Eccles R & Mallet P. Pharmacy (Basel). 2017; 5(1): 4
Barrett B. Integrative Med. 2018: 170–79.e7.doi: 10.1016/B978-0-323-35868-2.00018-9
Klimek-Szczykutowicz, M, et al. Plants (Basel). 2020 Jan; 9(1): 119
Commonwealth of Australia. Department of Health. Postnasal Drip. April 2020 [cited Oct. 2022]. Access from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/post-nasal-drip
Kalayci et al. World Allergy Organization Journal (2022) 15:100634
National Library of medicine. StatPearls Publishing LLC [Internet]. Dust Mite Allergy: Treasure island (FL). Last Update: Aug. 2022 [Accessed Oct. 2022]. Access from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books
Park KH, et al. Yonsei Med J. 2020;61(8):689-97
Jia-Ying L et al. llergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2021;49(5):16-24. doi: 10.15586/aei.v49i5.146
NSW Government. NSW health. Botulism Fact Sheet. May 2018 [cited Dec. 2022]. Access from: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/botulism.aspx
This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice.
Always read the label and follow the directions for use.