What is a chesty cough?

What is a chesty cough?

A cough is a sudden expulsion of air from the lungs, which is a reflex that protects the airway from foreign irritants such as smoke, dust and allergens, and can help clear the airways of secretions.1

There are acute coughs that begin suddenly and can last two to three weeks, and chronic coughs that last longer than three weeks.1

A cough can be classified as a chesty, productive cough where mucus or phlegm is produced, or a dry, unproductive cough where there is no mucus present.1 For more information on dry coughs click here.

What is a chesty cough?

What causes a chesty cough?

A chesty cough is commonly caused by a viral or bacterial respiratory tract infection, such as the common cold. Some other possible causes for coughs include:1

  • Post-nasal drip
  • Tobacco smoke or smoking

Why do we get chesty coughs?

There are tiny hair-like structures (cilia) that help to keep our airways clear from foreign particles in mucus or phlegm.2 When there is excess mucus in the airways that cannot be cleared in this way, we may develop a chesty, productive cough. This is the body’s response to remove excess mucus from the chest.3

To help resolve a chesty cough the mucus needs to be thinned so it can be cleared by the cilia.4

Do I have a chesty cough?

Identifying the type of cough you have is an important step in getting the right treatment. Some symptoms associated with chesty coughs are:

  • A wet, productive cough
  • The presence of sticky mucus or phlegm after persistent coughing
  • A rattling sound when breathing and coughing
  • A congested chest with possible difficulty breathing
  • Cough is often worse in the morning

If you have different symptoms you may have a dry cough.

How do you treat a chesty cough?

The aim of treatment for a chesty cough is to try to clear the chest of excess mucus. Generally a chesty, productive cough should not be suppressed as it helps to clear mucus from the chest.1

There are different cough preparations available on the market, and treating with a single active ingredient is preferable to treating with combination preparations.5 Mucolytics may help clear the chest of excess mucus by reducing the viscosity of the mucus making it easier to cough up.1

Bromhexine hydrochloride is a well tolerated mucolytic that thins, loosens and clears mucus, allowing mucus to move up and out of the chest.6 It can be used to remove excess mucus, which is experienced during the common cold and a variety of other conditions where excess mucus is produced.6

When to seek medical attention

If you have a chesty cough you should seek medical attention if:7

  • Your cough lasts for more than 3 weeks
  • Your cough is severe or getting worse
  • You are short of breath
  • You cough up blood
  • You have unexplained problems like weight loss or a fever


1 Merck Manual (2018), Cough in Adults, www.merckmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/symptoms-of-lung-disorders/cough-in-adults

2 Chang, A (2006), The physiology of cough, Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 7: 2-8.

3 Merck Manual (2018), Defense mechanisms of the respiratory system, https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/biology-of-the-lungs-and-airways/defense-mechanisms-of-the-respiratory-system

4 My Dr (2018), Cough: productive or ‘wet’ cough treatments, http://www.mydr.com.au/respiratory-health/cough-productive-or-wet-cough-treatments

5 Australian Medicines Handbook 2017 p. 891

6 Bisolvon Chesty Forte Liquid CMI August 2017

7 Cough, Health Direct, September 2017 URL: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cough (accessed 14 March 2018)




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