How to tell when is a cough more than just a cough

Having a cough can be irritating to say the least… that uncontrollable need to clear your throat and cough every few minutes is something many people deal with when winter rolls around and pesky colds seems to hunt us down.

But what about coughs that occur at other times of the year; coughs that aren’t caused by a common cold and could means something more serious? There are many different types of coughs, from dry to chesty to smoker’s, and they can all mean something different.

A cough can be caused by a number of different things and can last for anything from a few days (acute) to a few months (chronic). The severity of your cough will determine how you should treat it and when you should seek medical help. Many coughs can be treated with over the counter medications or remedies, but some will require professional help.

Here, we break down the different types of coughs and what they mean to you and your health.


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While asthma is usually associated with wheezing and difficulty breathing, not all sufferers have those symptoms. Indeed, some asthma sufferers cough instead. The asthma cough is actually very common among sufferers with a quarter of all chronic coughs being caused by asthma. An asthma cough is normally triggered by inhaling dust or dirt and should be treated with medication prescribed by a doctor. You may also notice the cough worsening at night or when you exercise. It can cause shortness of breath, tightening chest, and fatigue.


GERD, short for gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a dry spasmodic cough that occurs when stomach acid makes its way into the esophagus. It’s a surprisingly common type of cough and causes 40 per cent of chronic coughs. If you have a GERD cough, you’ll often find it’s gets worse when you’re eating or lying down. Other symptoms include heartburn and hoarseness. You should see your doctor to prevent it turning into a chronic condition.


This cough is particularly prevelant in the morning and is usually a hacking cough with lots of mucus. Known as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), it can be a sign of bronchitis and emphysema. If you have this cough, you may notice it gets better later in the day as well as increase in wheezing, fatigue, and shortness of breath. This type of cough can be a sign of a lung infection and in extreme cases can result in the need for oxygen therapy. If you’re a smoker, it’s imperative that quit immediately.

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There are many symptoms of pneumonia but one of the most prevalent is coughing. The cough typically starts as a dry cough before developing into a wet cough with thick mucus. Pneumonia can be life-threatening so understanding and identifying the signs are important. If you feel pain when your breathing or coughing, head to your doctor for a checkup, where they’ll usually run tests or x-rays to determine whether or not it’s viral or bacterial.

Have you ever had persistent trouble with a cough? How do you usually treat a cough?