When people cough they may have what is called a dry cough, or they might have a productive cough. A dry cough usually doesn’t “produce” anything. There is no mucus or phlegm that comes up when the person coughs. When a person has a productive cough, they will cough into their throat and usually mouth, some form of phlegm or mucus.
There are a number of reasons why people may have a productive cough. It can be the throat’s way of clearing mucus dripping down into it from the sinus passages when a cold is present. Coughing helps clear this process and can actually produce better breathing space. Alternately, when the airway is blocked with phlegm, as is the case with bronchitis, or if the lungs have fluid in them, when pneumonia occurs, the body responds by trying to cough this substance up. Other times when people have conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or when they smoke, they’ll have productive coughs too.
However, it’s also important to note when mucus might indicate presence of very serious or real infection that isn’t just a cold or virus. Clear phlegm may not be as concerning as mucus that is green or dark yellow in color. Doctors should also know if the cough is producing blood. Sometimes this is just irritation of the throat or airway, but some conditions like tuberculosis can include coughing up blood, and this extremely serious and requires treatment.
It may also be valuable to tell doctors when a cough is dry. Dry cough may be associated with things like viral forms of pneumonia. However bacterial types of pneumonia usually have a productive cough. If symptoms suggest pneumonia, type of cough may be one way of telling the cause of the condition and indicating how it should be treated.
It’s easy to think of cough as associated with disorders of the respiratory tract, colds flus, infections or diseased lungs. There is another type productive cough that can give people much trouble. Some who suffer from gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), experience productive coughing especially when they’re lying down. This is caused by acid entering the esophagus. When a person is not otherwise ill and they experience coughing at night while trying to sleep, they may want doctors to look for other symptoms of GERD.