What causes a wet cough?
A wet cough is a common symptom of respiratory infections or heart conditions. It results from the presence of mucus within the upper or lower respiratory tract. It may occur in conditions affecting one or both lungs, the bronchi, the larynx, or the pharynx. It may also be associated with more generalized conditions, such as a cold, hay fever, or the flu.
Respiratory causes of a wet cough
A wet cough may be caused by respiratory disorders including:
- Acute bronchitis
- Asthma or allergies
- Bronchiectasis (destruction and widening of the airways)
- Bronchiolitis (inflammation of the smallest airways in the lungs)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and chronic bronchitis
- Common cold (viral respiratory infection)
- Cystic fibrosis (thick mucus in the lungs or digestive tract)
- Influenza (flu)
- Lung cancer
- Tuberculosis (serious infection affecting the lungs and other organs)
Cardiac causes of a wet cough
A wet cough can also be caused by cardiac disorders, including congestive heart failure (deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump blood).
Serious or life-threatening causes of a wet cough
In some cases, a wet cough may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated by a health care provider. These include:
- Lung cancer
- Pulmonary aspiration (inhaling blood, vomited material, or other substances into the lungs)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of a wet cough
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your wet cough including:
- Are you coughing up any sputum? If so, what color is it?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- How long have you had a wet cough?
- What medications are you taking?
- When do you have a wet cough?
What are the potential complications of a wet cough?
Because a wet cough can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Heart failure
- Respiratory failure
- Spread of cancer
- Spread of infection
Cough. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003072.htm. Accessed June 1, 2011.
Cough. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/516.html. Accessed June 1, 2011.
What is a wet cough?
A wet cough is a common symptom of respiratory infection, allergies, and heart conditions. The medical term for a wet cough is productive cough. A wet cough results from the presence of mucus within the upper or lower respiratory tract. It may occur in conditions affecting one or both lungs, the bronchi, the larynx, or the pharynx. It may also be associated with more generalized conditions, such as a cold, hay fever, or the flu.... Read more about wet cough introduction
What other symptoms might occur with a wet cough?
A wet cough may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the respiratory tract may also involve other body systems.... Read more about wet cough symptoms