At least in Britain you normally come across distinct kinds of cough medicine "chesty", "dry" and "tickly".

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  • Are "chesty", "dry" and "tickly" coughs always due to microoganisms?
  • For the types of cough that are infectious, are differences due to different species of micro-organism or the same micro-organism at different stages of its development?
  • Do the alternative treatments (e.g. levomenthol, squill, liquorice for chesty vs. glycerol for dry/tickly) merely deal with symptoms or do they actually help fight the infection?


A related question is: What is the cause of dry cough?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cough need not be essentially because of microorganisms. It is basically because of airway irritation. $\endgroup$
    Dec 16, 2014 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG Thank you for pointing out that glaring hole, adjusted $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2014 at 17:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what a tickly cough feels like, so I'll leave the answer to someone else. A dry cough produces no mucus, so the lungs are irritated but there's no extra mucus in the upper branches of the lungs. A chesty or wet cough implies both irritation(you're coughing) and extra mucus production. All three are immune responses. As far as treatment goes, blanket anti-cough medicines don't help fight the infection, but deal with symptoms. Expectorants make coughs wetter which help them clear, others just reduce the cough reflex, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Resonating
    Dec 16, 2014 at 20:38

1 Answer 1


If I may add to what Resonating has said, when it comes to infections, dry cough is usually associated with a viral infection, whereas wet cough is usually caused by bacteria. The two are treated very differently - dry cough is remedied with cough-supressing drugs (antivirals are rarely needed), whereas bacterial infections are medicated with antibiotics (antivirals are NOT antibiotics) and drugs that help clear the mucus from the respiratory pathway. Treating wet cough with dry cough medications is not only ineffective, it can also be dangerous. One more thing - not all bacterial infections necessitate antibiotics which should be used sparingly because the world is running out of antibiotics.


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