5 Acute Cough Types and How to Treat Them Appropriately

Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
Published Online: Monday, February 22nd, 2016
Patients presenting to a retail clinic with acute cough could have one of several conditions.
Because the majority of retail clinic visits are related to cough, cold, and flu, advanced practice clinicians should be prepared to accurately determine the type of cough in order to provide the best treatment.
Here are 5 acute cough types that a retail clinician can expect to encounter:
1. Chest Cough
A cough that comes from the chest is often triggered by excessive mucus. This type of cough is sometimes referred to as a “productive cough” because the act of coughing gets rid of mucus in the chest.
If the patient reports irritation from the cough, clinicians can recommend an expectorant cough medication containing guaifenesin to help loosen the mucus for easier coughing.
2. Dry, Tickling Cough
This type of cough occurs when the throat doesn’t produce enough mucus, resulting in throat irritation.
Clinicians can recommend a demulcent to coat the throat and relieve irritation in the upper respiratory tract. Acceptable demulcents include water, hard candy, lemon, honey, menthol, or simple syrup.
3. Bronchitis
This type of cough produces yellow-gray phlegm and is normally accompanied by cold-like symptoms such as stuffy nose, headache, and fatigue.
Ultimately, the best treatment for bronchitis is rest and fluids, which can prevent dehydration and also thin the phlegm. Clinicians should avoid prescribing antibiotics for most patients with bronchitis because the condition is usually caused by a virus, rather than a bacterial infection.
4. Post-Viral Cough
A post-viral cough is a common symptom following an upper respiratory tract infection due to throat inflammation.
Clinicians should avoid prescribing antibiotics for most patients because post-viral coughs are rarely bacterial. Instead, clinicians can recommend an OTC cough syrup containing either dextromethorphan or menthol to relieve discomfort.
5. Whooping Cough
Often thought of as an infection of the past, whooping cough has been making a comeback. According to the World Health Organization, there were 30,000 to 40,000 whooping cough-related deaths in the United States between 2010 and 2014.
Whooping cough initially presents with mild, cold-like symptoms that snowball into severe coughing episodes over the course of a few weeks. The severe coughing phase also produces thick phlegm, and the condition is highly contagious.
The best way for patients to protect themselves is to get vaccinated against whooping cough and ensure that their kids also get the vaccine, as whooping cough is particularly dangerous for young children.

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