Medical News Today: Wet coughs: What to know

Various disease processes affect the lungs in different ways. A wet cough indicates that there is fluid in the airways. With a dry cough, however, there is little to no fluid in the airways. Therefore, a dry cough does not produce phlegm.

Some conditions may produce either a wet cough or a dry cough. Other conditions may produce mainly one or mainly the other, but with both potentially present.

Causes of a wet cough

Some typical causes of a wet cough include:

A respiratory infection

A wet cough often occurs as a result of a respiratory infection. Various types of respiratory infection can lead to an increase in mucus, including:

Other potential symptoms of a respiratory infection include:


The bronchial tubes carry air in and out of the lungs. Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the surface tissue of the bronchial tubes becomes thick, floppy, and scarred, with a widening of the tube diameter as a result of chronic inflammation.

This results in excess mucus production, which can trigger a wet cough. Excess mucus production, leading to a buildup within the bronchial tubes, also increases the risk of a lung infection.

Some other potential symptoms of bronchiectasis include:

  • wheezing
  • breathlessness
  • fatigue
  • coughing up blood or blood stained phlegm
  • chest pain
  • joint pain
  • clubbing of the fingertips

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for a group of chronic and progressive lung conditions. Some of these include:

Some forms of COPD cause damage to the tiny air sacs within the lungs, while others affect the bronchial tubes, the bronchioles, or both.

Some symptoms of COPD include:

  • a wet cough
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest

Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the heart has difficulty pumping blood throughout the body. When this ineffective pumping occurs on the left side of the heart, it causes fluid to leak into the air sacs within the lungs. The result is a wet cough, crackles, and wheezing.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), CHF may produce pink tinged mucus. Some additional symptoms may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • swelling of the legs or feet, due to right sided heart failure causing poor circulation

Causes of a dry cough

A dry cough differs from a wet cough in that it does not produce any fluid or mucus. It generally develops in response to irritation or inflammation of the airways.

Some common causes of a dry cough include:

  • gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • asthma
  • pulmonary fibrosis
  • certain medications

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