A guide to chesty coughs

A guide to chesty coughs

There are lots of different types of coughs – chesty, dry, hacking, tickly, paroxysmal and croup – and understanding which one you have could help you to take the right kind of medicine and get rid of it as quickly as possible. But sometimes, it can be difficult to determine the type of cough you have.

Generally, the most common types are dry and chesty coughs. If you think you have a chesty cough, you can use this guide to determine the causes and symptoms, as well as how to relieve it.

What is a chesty cough?

A chesty cough, also known as a wet or mucus cough, is a way for your body to remove excess phlegm from your throat and chest.

Phlegm and mucus are substances that our body produces naturally. In controlled amounts, phlegm and mucus aren’t a problem and there are actually many benefits of both substances – they keep the surface of our eyes moist, line our noses to prevent dirt and germs from getting in and flow through our lungs to keep them healthy.

However, our body can begin to produce too much mucus when we have an infection, such as the common cold or flu. This is your body’s way of naturally fighting the infection to try and get rid of it altogether, but it can be irritating, especially when this extra mucus causes a chesty cough.

A cough is your body’s way of removing this excess phlegm and mucus. As you cough, you draw lots of air into your lungs and quickly release it, providing a powerful blast of air that can carry the mucus out of your lungs and up your throat. The more you cough, the more you may notice that you’re bringing up this excess phlegm.

Symptoms of a chesty cough include:

  • Coughing up phlegm that can vary in colour
  • A rattling noise that occurs when you breathe in
  • Feeling breathless
  • A sore throat.

The most common causes of this type of cough include an infection, such as cold or flu, secondary infections that are often caused by an infection in the first case, such as bronchitis, pneumonia or a chest infection, or smoking[1]. Smoking can severely irritate the inner lining in the lungs and can prevent free movement of natural mucus. This can cause debris to enter the lungs and often results in the overproduction of mucus, resulting in a chesty cough that doesn’t properly go away[2].

How long does a chesty cough last?

A chesty cough can come on quite suddenly, however it shouldn’t last for any longer than 10 days to two weeks. If your cough has lingered for longer than this and shows no signs of easing, you should book an appointment with your GP[1].

How to help a chesty cough

If you’re suffering from a throat infection, there may be some things you can try to soothe your chesty cough.

  • Drink lots of water

One of the easiest things you can do to help your chesty cough is drink plenty of water. Not only can this keep you hydrated, but water can dilute the mucus a little bit, loosening it up and making it easier to cough up. You should avoid liquids that might dehydrate you in the long run, such as alcohol, and stick to soft drinks[1].

  • Increase vitamin C intake

Vitamin C really is a wonder vitamin. It has tons of beneficial properties, and it can help to restore the health of the membranes in our body that are responsible for mucus production. Therefore, in taking vitamin C, you could boost your immune system and help your body to control the mucus production[3].

  • Use throat lozenges

For chesty coughs that are caused by infections, such as a cold, you can suck on throat lozenges to help fight the infection and numb the pain of a sore throat that’s caused by a cough.

  • Sleep with your head elevated

Elevating your head while you sleep allows the mucus to be expelled from your lungs more naturally. It can also make it slightly easier to breathe at night if you’re struggling[1].

  • Use a decongestant

When you have the common cold or the flu, it can be useful to take a decongestant to relieve nasal swelling, unblock your nose and clear excess mucus. Many cold and flu tablets will contain a decongestant, but check the label before taking them. You should always stick to the recommended dose, so read the label carefully to ensure you’re not taking too many within a certain time period[4].


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cough/

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/what-are-the-health-risks-of-smoking/

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-c/

[4] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/decongestants/