What Type of Cough Do I Have?

Top tips to prevent cold and flu symptoms

So, you have a cough – but do you know what type it is?

Not all coughs are the same or have the same symptoms or causes. So, when it comes to getting the right treatment, it's helpful to know what type of cough you have.

Coughs are common, but they can be irritating – especially if they're tickly, chesty or disturb your sleep at night. A cough is the body’s way of clearing your airways of mucus or other irritants. It occurs when your airways become inflamed due to viruses and bacteria caused by cold or flu, or irritants like dust and smoke. If your cough lasts less than three weeks, it is considered ‘acute’. A cough that persists longer than eight weeks (or four in children) is considered ‘chronic’ and may be caused by a more serious medical issue such as bronchitis, asthma or allergies.

Learn more about the options for treating coughs and how to manage a cough at night.

Productive vs Unproductive Coughs

Coughs can be broadly categorised into two main types: productive and unproductive.

A productive cough will often feel ‘chesty’, as it produces mucus or phlegm from your lungs, chest and throat – often as a symptom of cold or flu.

With an unproductive cough, you won't bring up any mucus. Unproductive coughing can be dry and tickly, and your throat may feel very irritated.

What Are the Types of Cough?

To help you discover what kind of cough you might be experiencing, here's a guide to the most common types of cough.


A chesty cough is productive and will bring up mucus or phlegm. You may also feel a heaviness or tightness in your chest, or notice a wheezing or rattling sound. While this can be unpleasant, chesty coughs do serve a purpose: helping to clear your lungs and airways of mucus. Because of this, you should not try to supress a chesty cough if you do experience one.

A chesty cough is typically caused by a cold or flu and may disturb your sleep at night.


Tickly coughs can be extremely annoying. Your throat may feel constantly tickly or scratchy, causing you to want to cough to try and clear it. Unlike a chesty cough, a tickly cough is unproductive – which means that no mucus is produced by your body.Typically, it's caused by colds and flu and occurs alongside a sore throat. You can also develop a tickly cough by inhaling irritants such as dust or smoke.

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This is often described as an irritating cough and may also cause a ‘tickling’ feeling. Dry coughs are also non-productive, so no mucus or phlegm is produced. They are often the result of asthma, taking certain medications (such as those used to treat high blood pressure) or the body’s reaction to inhaling irritants.


A persistent (or ‘chronic’) cough is one that lasts for three weeks or longer and doesn't improve. This type of cough is often caused by seasonal allergies, asthma, a long-term respiratory infection – such as bronchitis – smoking, or other medical conditions.

It's best to see your GP if you have a persistent cough. If your cough worsens or you experience any of the following symptoms, speak to a medical professional as soon as possible:

    Coughing up thick green or yellow phlegm

    A high temperature or fever


    Wheezing or difficulty breathing

Is My Cough Caused by Cold or Flu?

Colds and flu share some common symptoms, including a cough, so it's not unusual to be unsure whether you just have a cold or are suffering from full-blown flu.

As a rule of thumb, flu symptoms tend to come on much quicker than a cold and are more severe. Colds can be a nuisance, but symptoms are often mild and come on slowly.

Typical symptoms of a cold include:

    Sore throat and/or cough

    A blocked or runny nose


The flu, however, often includes additional symptoms such as muscle aches and pain or a high temperature. You will usually feel much worse with the flu than with the common cold.

Treating the Symptoms of Cold and Flu

If you're suffering from the symptoms of cold or flu, including coughing, try Night Nurse Capsules. They offer unbeatable strength* relief from cold and flu symptoms. Find out where to buy Night Nurse products in the UK.

Top tips to prevent cold and flu symptoms