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A persistent cough can be frustrating and worrisome. Coughing serves an important function to help clear your throat and airway of irritants, mucus and foreign particles. Understanding what type of cough you have can help determine possible causes and treatment options.

Types of Coughs:

  • Dry cough means you’re coughing but no mucus or congestion is coming up. This type of cough can be caused by a sore throat, asthma, sinus infection and COVID-19,  making your airways, throat and chest feel sore.
  • cough is referred to as a productive cough because it often produces mucus and congestion from your lungs and back of your throat. This type of cough can indicate an infection in your lungs, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

Coughs also can be broken down by duration. An acute cough lasts less than three weeks. A subacute cough has symptoms for three to eight weeks, and a chronic cough lasts more than eight weeks.

If the mucus from your cough is clear, it’s unlikely you have an infection. However, if it is yellow or greenish, you should see a health care professional to determine the type of infection and get proper treatment.

  • Paroxysmal cough is an uncontrollable cough that can be described as intense, difficult to control and painful because it involves diaphragm spasms and is often seen in adults who have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. Consider making an appointment for help to manage this type of cough, since over-the-counter cold medicines usually won’t help. 
  • Barking cough, also known as the croup, can be caused by a respiratory infection creating inflammation in the upper airway and vocal cords. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that infects the respiratory tract, particularly the lungs, and can cause various respiratory illnesses. RSV is the leading cause of respiratory infections, especially in infants and young children.
  • Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious disease that can be deadly for babies. If there’s a newborn in your life, be sure to get your Tdap vaccine updated. Adults need the booster every 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whooping cough’s main symptom is the signature barking cough and sharp intake of breath

A cough also can be a symptom of illnesses that aren’t directly related to a respiratory infection. Identifying the root cause of the cough is critical to successful treatment that goes beyond merely addressing symptoms.

Potential causes of cough unrelated to a respiratory infection:

  • Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD. As stomach acid irritates the throat, the result can be a reflexive, chronic cough.
  • Asthma inflames the airways, which tighten and are more susceptible to respond to irritants with a cough. Hacking cough is often used to describe the dry cough brought on by asthma.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors. These medications for high blood pressure can cause a chronic cough in about 10% of patients who take the drugs. An increased cough reflex is a known side effect of ACE inhibitors.
  • Allergies can cause swelling or irritation in your airways, triggering a cough.
  • Chronic bronchitis is a long-term inflammation of the airways that is common among smokers.
  • Heart failure can cause what is sometimes referred to as cardiac cough. Heart failure can cause lung congestion, which will trigger a cough.
  • COPD typically first shows up as a persistent cough. The body’s cough reflex tries to expel the excess mucous associated with COPD.
  • Lung cancer cough typically doesn’t go away after three weeks and often starts as a dry cough that comes in spasms.
  • Cystic fibrosis typically involves a chronic cough that produces think mucus.

When Should You Seek Medical Care for a Cough?

If you or your child has a chronic condition, call your health care provider for specific advice. Otherwise, seek care from your primary care provider if you’re experiencing:

  • A cough that won’t quit (a few weeks)
  • Wheezing when you breathe
  • A fever over 101.5 F or a lower-grade fever that lasts for a few days
  • Chills or phlegm that is yellow or greenish in color

Norton Now includes same-day care offerings so you can get the care you need, when you need it and where you need it. Norton Community Medical Associates primary care offices are located across the Louisville and Southern Indiana area. Save your spot in line at a Norton Immediate Care Center or visit a Norton Prompt Care clinic for treatment of minor injuries or illnesses.

Use Norton eCare video visits or just answer a few questions online from anywhere in Kentucky or Indiana for care without coming into the office. Your provider can order drive-thru lab testing for you if needed at Norton Healthcare Express Services.


Your clinical care team will create a personalized treatment plan that may include the following services depending on the cause of your cough:

Over-the-counter or prescription cough medicine serves two general purposes: Expectorant and cough suppressant. An expectorant will address thick and sticky mucus by thinning it out, helping you clear it from your airways. A cough suppressant should be used only for a dry cough. Clearing mucus and phlegm is an important part of recovery from a viral or bacterial cough and should not be suppressed.

Norton Now: Care When You Need It

  • Get medical care when and where it works for you.
    • Norton Community Medical Associates primary care is your medical home. More than 35 locations across the Louisville area and Southern Indiana means there’s an office close to home, work or school. Your primary care physician knows you and your health and performs annual checkups to stay ahead of any emerging conditions. Our doctors and nurse practitioners connect you to the full Norton Healthcare system, giving you and your family easy access to the area’s leading specialty physicians.
    • More than 15 Norton Immediate Care Centers offer treatment for minor illnesses and injuries. Reserve your spot in line and we’ll text you when it’s time to check in. All Norton Immediate Care Centers are equipped with X-ray machines.
    • Norton Prompt Care clinics have same-day appointments available when you need care for yourself or your family. All locations offer extended weekday and weekend hours. Many are located within Walgreens stores.
    • Norton eCare allows you to visit with a provider via secure video or by simply answering questions online about your symptoms.
    • Emergency care is available for a very serious illness or injury that puts your life in danger. Get treatment 24/7 at nine locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana, including three locations for kids.
  • Medicaid, Medicare and most major commercial insurance plans are accepted.
  • Get test results, renew prescriptions, communicate with your health care provider, get notified if an earlier appointment becomes available and more with your free Norton MyChart account.

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