What Are The Four Main Types Of Cough And How Are They Treated?

Coughs are hard to deal with but knowing the type of cough you have can make it easier to treat. Find out the different types of cough and their treatment here.


Coughing can be extremely irritating, and quite painful when it lasts for a long time. There are a few commonly known treatments out there that can provide some relief, but they don’t always work. This is because there are different types of cough — meaning that treatments will need to be tailored to each one.

This article is going to look at what causes coughing, explore and define the different types of coughs, and provide information on treatments for each. Find out all you need to know about the four main types of cough and their treatment with OneWelbeck.

What causes coughing?

Coughing is a way for your body to expel an irritant from it. This can be due to illness or irritation from allergens like pollen and dust.

Other common causes of coughs can include smoking, mucus build-up and an underlying health condition. The cause of your cough will also determine how you treat it, as different irritants can cause different types of cough.

How many types of coughs are there?

There are four main types of cough that people experience during their life, with some of them being more common than others. We’ll go into these main types of coughs in more detail below.

Coughs can also be classified as:

  • Acute – a cough that lasts for less than three weeks
  • Subacute – a cough that lasts for 3–8 weeks
  • Chronic – a cough that lasts for longer than eight weeks

The type of cough that you have can be classified into one of the above categories. It can also help doctors to determine the type of treatment that you need.

Dry Cough

Dry coughs can feel very tickly in the back of the throat and cause a hacking sort of cough. A dry cough doesn’t bring up mucus. They’re normally caused by inflammation of the respiratory system — meaning that this cough can linger for a few weeks.

Dry coughs are normally a symptom of:

  • Colds or the flu
  • Allergies — seasonal or caused by irritants like dust
  • Asthma
  • COVID-19
  • Laryngitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Tonsillitis

Typically, dry coughs clear up without medical intervention, and home remedies are enough to help treat them.

How to treat dry cough

Treating a dry cough can easily be done at home. Home remedies for dry coughs include:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids — water is best as it will lubricate and hydrate the throat
  • Sucking on throat lozenges
  • Eating a spoonful of honey — do not give this to a baby under 1 year old as it could potentially cause botulism (a rare, but life-threatening condition that attacks the nervous system)
  • Use a humidifier to add some moisture to the room

Dry coughs tend to be more irritating than anything else, and they seem to be easily triggered. To avoid a coughing fit, it’s a good idea to keep throat lozenges handy as well as some water.

Wet cough

A wet cough is a type of cough that brings up mucus. A wet cough can be acute or chronic. These coughs can feel as irritating as a dry cough, but not as tickly because the mucus is sitting on your chest.

The causes of a wet cough are slightly different to a dry cough. Wet coughs can be caused by:

Again, like dry coughs, wet coughs will typically go away on their own accord — but you still might want to find relief with some home remedies.

If your wet cough lasts longer than three weeks, it’s best to speak with a doctor.

You’ll also want to seek medical advice if you’re coughing up thick, yellow or green mucus, wheezing, have a fever or have minor chest pains

Wet cough treatment

Home remedies for a wet cough can include:

  • Taking a hot shower — the steam can loosen the mucus on your chest
  • Eat herbal cough drops — flavours such as eucalyptus and other menthols can help
  • Staying hydrated
  • A spoonful of honey

Paroxysmal cough

A paroxysmal cough can be extremely exhausting and very persistent. This type of cough can make it hard for you to breathe and even cause you to vomit. The cough itself can be characterised by violent, intense coughing attacks that are difficult to control.

The most common cause of this type of cough is whooping cough, but it can also be caused by:

Whooping cough can be hard to diagnose at first, as the symptoms aren’t all that different to a regular cold. However, if the symptoms don’t clear up after a week, or the cough continues to worsen, then a doctor will need to be contacted and antibiotics prescribed.

Paroxysmal coughing treatment

Common treatments for paroxysmal coughing include:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Antibiotics
  • Decongestants to help remove the mucus
  • Antihistamines to reduce any allergy symptoms that might make the coughing worse
  • Inhalers or nebulisers
  • Breathing exercises

A doctor will need to be seen for this type of coughing, as most of the treatments need to be prescribed.

Croup cough

Croup cough is caused by a viral infection that causes the airways to swell and become irritated. This can then make it quite difficult to breathe. The cough can be very persistent and have a distinct barking sound, making it easy to identify.

Croup coughing can cause the voice to become raspy and breathing to sound wheezy. Croup is normally seen in babies and children aged five and under.

Even though croup coughs can sound scary, and parents may be concerned hearing their child coughing like this, it is usually mild and clears up on its own. However, if the croup cough gets worse or lasts longer than three weeks, medical advice should be sought.

How to treat croup cough

Treatment for croup cough can normally be done at home and can include:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Resting
  • Taking a steamy shower or placing the child in the bathroom filled with steam

When to see a doctor for a cough

If any type of cough is lasting longer than three weeks, it’s always best to seek a doctor's advice.

If the coughing is also accompanied by thick green mucus, slight chest pain or difficulty breathing, then speak with a healthcare provider right away.

The four types of cough are quite easy to distinguish between, which means that treating them at home is fairly simple. Often, coughs will clear up on their own — but if the symptoms get worse instead of better, it’s always best to speak to a doctor.

How OneWelbeck can help

Here at OneWelbeck, we have a team of specialists, state of the art facilities and diagnostics, and highly competitive financial packages for self-funding patients as well as those with private health care.