What is the Difference between a Wet and Dry Cough?


While a cough can be a symptom of a common cold and flu, an allergy, acid reflux, asthma1, or even a symptom of viral infection2, knowing the different types of coughs may be helpful, especially as the treatment for a cough usually depends on its underlying cause3.

What is a cough?

The primary role of a cough is to clear irritants and infections from the body3. While an occasional cough is healthy, a persistent cough can be annoying2,3. There are generally two very different types of coughs, namely a dry cough and a wet cough4,5. Their names are derived from the presence (or not) of phlegm or mucus when you cough4,5.

There are many things that can cause a cough. Dry coughs are typically caused by viral infections, a smoky or dry environment, air pollution, allergies, asthma, acid reflux, acute bronchitis, croup and even certain medications such as some blood pressure medication and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication4. These substances can cause irritation or inflammation of the airways that can lead to coughing1,6. This type of cough does not bring up or cause production of mucus, hence the term “dry cough”6.

Wet coughs cause excessive production of phlegm or mucus from the lower respiratory tract4,5. They are usually temporary and are associated with viruses like colds and flu4,5. They can be accompanied by symptoms such as a stuffy nose, aches/pains, sore throat and wheezing4,6.

So, how should we manage these different types of coughs?

Cough suppressants or demulcents are typically used for relief of a dry cough4. Cough suppressants work via the brain to suppress the cough reflex where demulcents act locally by coating the throat and relieve local irritation and inflammation4,7. A wet cough can be managed through cough mixtures containing demulcents, mucolytics, expectorants or bronchodilators4,7. These ingredients make it easier to cough up the excess mucus or phlegm4,5.

Bronchostop Range

Bronchostop is a new product launched to the South African market, that helps relieve any cough, whether its dry and tickly or wet and chesty with phlegm or mucus8-10*. It contains natural ingredients; marshmallow root extract, thyme extract and/or honey8-10. It creates a protective shield on the throat that soothes dry cough irritation and inflammation while helping to thin mucus making it easier to cough up mucus associated with a wet cough8-12. It has minimal known side effects and is non-drowsy, alcohol**, lactose and GMO-free8-10.

The Bronchostop range includes syrups and pastilles which relieve any cough on the go or at home8-10*. The children’s cough syrup is suitable for use in children from one years of age10.

Always see a doctor if your cough continues for more than 5 days8 or if you are concerned about why you are coughing.

* Cough associated with colds

** Syrups only

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice.

Scheduling Status: S0 Proprietary name (and dosage form): Pholtex Bronchostop® Cough Syrup. Composition: Each 5 ml syrup contains: 39 mg Thyme herb extract and 277 mg Marshmallow root dry extract. Pharmacological Classification: Complementary Medicine: Discipline
Specific Traditional Claims D33.6 Western Herbal Medicine. Scheduling Status: S0 Proprietary name (and dosage form): Pholtex Bronchostop® Cough Pastilles. Composition: Each pastille contains: 51.1 mg Thyme herb extract and 4.5 mg Marshmallow root dry extract. Pharmacological
Classification: Complementary Medicine: Discipline Specific Traditional Claims D33.6 Western Herbal Medicine. Proprietary name (and dosage form): Pholtex Bronchostop® Children’s Cough Syrup. Composition: Each 5 ml syrup contains: 48 mg Marshmallow root dry extract and 250 mg
Honey. These unregistered medicines have not been evaluated by the SAHPRA for their quality, safety or intended use. For more information, speak to your healthcare practitioner. Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals. Name and business address of applicant: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Limited. Co. Reg. No. 1952/001640/07, 15e Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. IN3905/20


1. Differentiating Dry Cough and Wet Cough Based on Causes, Symptoms, Treatment – ePainAssist ( Website accessed on 11 March 2018

2. Science Alert. Here’s How to Tell if Your Cough Is a Sign of Coronavirus or Something Else (2020) at (website accessed on 23 July 2020

3. Medical News Today. What can I do to make my cough go away? (2020) at (website accessed on 22 July 2020)

4. Truter I. Cough. Evidence Based Pharmacy Practice. SA Pharm J 2007;74(4):20-27.

5. Cough treatment. Specialist Forum 2017;17(6): 28-30

6. Tiberian, J. MD VIP. What’s the difference between a dry cough and a wet cough? (2020) at (website accessed on 23 July 2020)

7. Van Schoor J. An approach to recommending cough mixtures in pharmacy. S Afr Pharm J 2012;79(6):30-33.

8. Pholtex Bronchostop® Cough Syrup professional information, September 2019.

9. Pholtex Bronchostop® Cough Pastilles professional information, September 2019.

10. Pholtex Bronchostop® Children’s Cough Instructions for use, February 2019.

11. Capasso, F. Plants and the respiratory system. Phytotherapy pp 193-216 2003

12. Al-Snafi, E. The Pharmaceutical Importance of Althaea officinalis and Althaea rosea: A Review. International Journal of PharmTech Research. Vol.5, No.3, pp 1378-1385, July-Sept 2013