Is The Cough a Dry or Productive One?

So each time you walk into a pharmacy for cough medication, you can quite relate with pharmacists asking you if it’s a dry or productive(wet). 

Sometime this questions can seem overbearing and some persons might even respond with statements such  as “please cough is cough,  just give me something for the cough, this is another way you people finish our money”.

Sometimes it can really become a funny exchange but whichever way you often react to this question, Pharmacists understand.

It is our job to ask such questions and it is important to so that you understand how that answer helps us decide the best medication for you.

I am sure you would want to know the reason why we are so interested in the kind of cough you are having before we  dispense or recommend medications for you, but i will start by letting you know what it is as well as the triggers. 

Cough is simply a defensive  reflex (uncontrolled) that is sometimes  characterized by release of sputum (the thick yellow substance) which helps to expel certain foreign unwanted particles. It can be triggered by certain drugs, an allergy or an infection or may also present occasionally with chest pain and soreness of throat.

Some specific substances that can cause coughing include: Dust, smoke or fumes as well as health conditions such as asthma, some  viral infections or  bacterial infections. A group of blood pressure certain medications also produce coughing as a side effect 

Back to where we started, there are two major types of cough;

  •  Dry – The kind of cough whereby no sputum or mucus is expelled
  • Productive  – Involves expiration of sputum

The reason Pharmacists always pop up that question is because the two types are treated with  different classes of medications, and by finding out which one you are presented with our choice of medication for your  treatment becomes more specific.

We have 3 forms of cough preparations

  • Antitussives
  • Mucolytics
  • Expectorants

Antitussives are the type also known as cough suppressants. They act by blocking the cough reflex centre in the brain. They are specifically prescribed for dry coughs and example include; Dextrometophan-containing medications and others containing little amount of codeine or its derivatives.

Expectorants and mucolytics may seem the same, because they are mainly used for the relief of productive cough, but here is the difference;

Mucolytics helps to reduce the viscosity of mucus by breaking them to be less viscous thus enhancing removal. Examples are such medicines containing ambroxol, carbocisteine and bromhexine. 

Expectorants on the other hand also facilitates sputum removal by increasing the volume of secretion and aiding the removal of sputum from the respiratory tract via coughing. Example include; preparations containing guafenesin, ammonium chloride and sodium citrate, honey etc.

Basically, these are the forms of medications used for treatment of cough, but when it’s established by tests as microorganism related, antibiotics are prescribed. 

So now you know that cough exist in different forms and different medications are used in treating different kinds. So next time do well to respond appropriately to the question “Is it dry or productive”, Now you know why.

Your Pharmacist Cares…


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