Best medicines for dry, chesty, tickly or mucus coughs

Best medicines for dry, chesty, tickly or mucus coughs




Having a cough is never a good thing.


A cough can often lead to other problems, such as a sore throat.


Dealing with a cough can be difficult when there are different types of a cough and knowing which one you are suffering from can make all the difference when it comes to treating it.


What is a cough?


A cough is a reflex action when your airway is blocked by mucus or irritants.


Coughing to clear the throat of mucus or irritants is an uncommon action, though conditions can make it a more common occurrence.


Coughs typically improve after around 2 weeks, though they can last much longer.


What are the different types of a cough?


There are a number of different types of a cough that one person can have in their lifetime.


These are:

  • A dry cough
  • A persistent cough
  • Chesty Cough
  • A tickly cough
  • A mucus Cough
  • A cough with phlegm
  • A wheezing cough

What is a dry cough?


A dry cough is what is known as a non-productive cough.


This is a type of a cough that does not produce any mucus or phlegm.


It can be caused by a number of issues, including allergies or an acid reflux (caused by heartburn).


A dry cough can usually be treated by off-the-shelf products or treatments from a pharmacy.



What is a persistent cough?


A persistent cough is a cough that has lasted more than 3 weeks.


If you have a long-term cough, then you should go and see your doctor.


A persistent cough can be caused by another issue, including:

  • Asthma
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Smoking – active or passing
  • Environmental pollution
  • Occupational exposure to irritants
  • Postnatal drip

What is a chesty cough?


A chesty cough is usually caused by an infection in the chest, which may lead to coughing up green or yellow mucus.


It is unpleasant but it usually improves after 7-10 days or up to 3 weeks depending on the severity.


With a chesty cough, phlegm is produced to help clear the airways in the throat.



What is a tickly cough?


A tickly cough is actually just another name for a dry cough.


When someone refers to a dry, tickly cough, it’s the same thing.


What is a mucus cough?


A mucus cough is simply a cough that produces mucus, usually caused by an infection.


The colour of the mucus can change colour depending on the condition causing the cough.

  • Yellow or green mucus – can be caused by bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, or cystic fibrosis. The colour of the mucus will change depending on the severity of the issue causing the cough.
  • Brown mucus – This rusty colour mucus is usually this colour because of old blood. It is caused by conditions including, bacterial pneumonia, bacterial bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, pneumoconiosis, lung abscess.
  • White – This colour of mucus/phlegm is a result of conditions such as bronchitis, which can lead to green/yellow mucus or phlegm later on. Other conditions which can cause white phlegm can include GERD and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Congestive heart failure is another potential cause.
  • Black – Black phlegm/mucus is caused by smoking, a fungal infection from a black yeast known as Exophiala dermatitidis, which is often caused by cystic fibrosis.
  • Clear – Clear Phlegm is what your body naturally produces. It is made from water, protein antibodies and dissolved salt. It helps to lubricate and moisturise your respiratory system. An increase in this is usually caused by an irritant or allergen such as pollen, or a virus. Allergic rhinitis caused by hay fever for example, or bronchitis or pneumonia, can cause the increased amount of mucus produced.
  • Red or pink – Red or pink mucus usually indicates that it contains blood. This can be caused by; pneumonia, tuberculosis, congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolism (the pulmonary artery in the lung is blocked by a clot from somewhere else in the body, such as the leg), and lung cancer.

What is a cough with phlegm?


A cough with phlegm is very similar to a mucus cough but there is a slight difference.


You may often hear that phlegm and mucus are interchanged, and that is because phlegm is a type of mucus.


It is produced by the lower airways instead of the nose which produces mucus.


What is a wheezing cough?


A wheezing cough is when coughing, there is also a wheezing noise made when coughing.


A wheezing cough is when the trachea is narrowed.


It can be dormant for a long time and then triggered by exercise, poor air quality or an illness.


This can scar the tissue and leave the trachea permanently narrowed.


This is a result of a number of potential conditions, including:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (CORD)
  • Heart failure and pulmonary edema


What is the best form of treatment for a cough?


There is a wide range of treatments available for coughs.


The best cough treatment will depend on the type of cough that you have.


The most common form of treatment is liquid syrup used as a medicine.


These are easily available and are from well-known brands, such as Covonia, Lemsip, Benylin, Numark, and Tixylix.


How do I choose the right cough medicine for me?

Choosing the right medicine is difficult when there are so many choices.


Some medicines are designed to be taken at night, whereas some are to be taken during the day.


For children, there are specific forms of treatment, all of them are syrup to be taken orally, that help to treat a cough.



Are there any non-syrup medicine options for treating a cough?


There are some, such as tablets, pastilles, or sachet that you add to water, but most cough medicines are syrups.



Are all of the cough syrups the same?


No, the biggest difference will be the active ingredient used in the medicine, which will be shown on the bottle and box of the syrup.


These ingredients will determine whether it is available off the shelf or it will require approval from a pharmacist.


Does the active ingredient differ by brand?


You’d be surprised to hear that the active ingredient in different brands for the same type of cough medicine is often the same.


The common ingredients for the different types of cough medicine are as follows:

  • Dry cough – Glycerol, sucrose, dextromethorphan
  • Chesty cough – Guaifenesin, levomenthol
  • Mucus cough – Guaifenesin, levomenthol


There will be some different ingredients, but those will be to treat other conditions, such as heartburn, or a runny nose.


Night time medicines will often have extra ingredients to help you get to sleep.


Other different ingredients will make the syrup taste different.


In addition, some of the ingredients in these medications are included in other cold and flu medications, for example, levomenthol is included in Vicks Vaporub.


For a persistent cough or a wheezing cough, you should speak to a doctor, as it is likely that an underlying condition is what is causing the coughing and a different form of treatment will be required.


Paul Kelly - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 22 September 2021
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