Coughing is the body’s natural response to remove mucus or other foreign matter from the upper airway passages or the lungs. Cough is also a reaction to an irritated airway. Coughs can be of different types and each can have its own distinctive traits that are easy to identify. It is important to understand that cough is only a symptom, and not a disease. The underlying causes of cough can usually be determined along with the evaluation of other symptoms occurring simultaneously.
Productive coughs produce mucus or phlegm. The mucus may have come up from the lungs or may have drained down the throat via the nose or sinuses. The productive cough throws up this sputum. It is usually recommended to clear this mucus from the lungs as far as possible, and not suppress it. This type of cough may be caused due to the following factors:
Infection: An infection in the upper airway passages or the lungs may cause a productive cough. This cough may be a sign of bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, or tuberculosis.
Viral Illness: During a common cold or flu, it is normal to have productive cough. This cough will disappear on its own in a few days as the effect of the virus subsides.
Chronic Lung Ailment: Ailments such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may show productive cough as one of the symptoms.
Postnasal Drip: Nasal discharge draining down the back of the throat may cause a constant feeling to clear the throat and may trigger productive cough.
Smoking: Smoking is one of the leading causes of productive cough and a sign of irritation of the throat or lung damage.
As the name suggests, the nonproductive cough is dry and produces no sputum. This type of cough may be caused following an exposure to an allergen such as smoke or dust. It may also develop towards the last stage of a cold. Other factors that may cause nonproductive cough include the following:
Bronchospasms: Spasms in the bronchial tubes may occur due to irritation, and may result in nonproductive cough, especially at night.
Viral Illness: Following a cold or flu, a nonproductive cough may occur. This may last for many weeks when other symptoms have already subsided, and usually worsens at night.
Allergy: Exposure to fumes, dust, and chemicals in the environment, medications such as ACE inhibitors and other allergens may also lead to a nonproductive cough.