How do you recognize the difference?

Coughing is one of the hallmark symptoms of COVID-19. But coughing is also a typical symptom of many other conditions, including the flu, the common cold, or seasonal allergies.

When you’re coughing, you may be wondering how — or so — you can tell if it’s due to COVID-19 or some other condition. This article looks at some of the ways you can tell the difference.

Researchers tried in 2021 to study the sounds a person makes to determine if they can detect COVID-19 through coughing.

They have been able to tell the difference between someone who coughs to clear their throat, for example, and someone who coughs because they are sick. But there is no way to definitively diagnose COVID-19 by cough sound detection, according to a 2022 study.

About two-thirds of coughs associated with COVID-19 are dry coughs that don’t produce mucus, according to the same 2022 study. This means most coughs will be dry and painful. With dry cough, it is often difficult to stop coughing once you have started.

Still, you can sometimes cough up phlegm if you have COVID-19.

These characteristics are different from a “normal” cough, where your body tries to get rid of some type of irritant. Such coughing fits are usually self-limiting and will not last all day.

It’s hard to tell by listening to your cough if you have COVID-19 or something else. But COVID-19 is often accompanied by other signature symptoms.

The following table lists some common symptoms of conditions that can cause you to cough. This table can help you determine if your cough is due to COVID-19.

The most definitive way to find out is by testing. You can use tests that determine whether you have COVID-19, the flu, or both — and yes, you can get both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

While there are no specific tests for the common cold, they can sometimes help rule out other conditions. If a health care professional rules out COVID-19 and the flu, a common cold could be a likely cause of your cough. Colds also usually don’t last as long as the flu or COVID-19.

If you’re coughing in connection with COVID-19, you may experience chest discomfort and interrupted sleep — a problem when you’re trying to rest and recover.

Some methods you can use to specifically target your cough include:

  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. This will help keep your throat moist and reduce irritation.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier if the air in your home is very dry. You can also take a hot shower with the door closed to generate enough steam.
  • Consume cold or hot foods, such as popsicles, hot tea, broth, or ice chips. All of these can soothe an irritated throat and reduce coughing.
  • Consider over-the-counter (OTC) cough drops or cough-reducing lollipops.
  • Consume a teaspoon of honey. (Babies under 1 year old should not consume honey for safety reasons.)

Using cough medicine can be controversial if you have a wet cough that causes phlegm. If you suppress your cough, you may not get all the mucus up. Instead, you may want to take a cough expectorant, which will help you cough up the phlegm.

If you have a dry cough, which is typical of COVID-19, taking cough suppressants may help.

Below are some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and coughing.

How long does COVID cough last?

An estimated 2.5% of people reported a cough that lasted 11.2 months after hospitalization for COVID-19. While most people’s coughs don’t last that long, an estimated 19% of people develop a cough after overcoming most of the symptoms of COVID-19.

Coughing is a reflex that helps clear the airways of mucus, dust, and other irritants. A cough can also be a symptom of irritated airways. Even after you recover from COVID-19, your airways may take a little longer to heal.

Does COVID Cough Get Worse at Night?

Coughs tend to get worse at night for a few reasons.

If you have a runny nose, lying flat can make the postnasal drip worse. This means that the mucus will run down the back of your throat, irritating it and making you cough.

You may also find that your dry cough is worse at night because you are usually indoors, where the air is drier and irritates your airways more. Using a cool mist humidifier can help reduce this occurrence. (But be sure to keep the humidifier clean and dry when not in use).

Is coughing up mucus typical in people with COVID-19?

According to research from 2021, an estimated 67% of people with COVID-19 experience a dry cough. A dry cough does not produce phlegm. The other 33% report coughing up phlegm or phlegm.

Can COVID-19 Make You Cough Up Blood?

Coughing up blood (hemoptysis) is a very rare symptom of COVID-19. About 1% to 5% of people with COVID-19 experience this symptom. It is most common if your infection leads to pneumonia or if you have a pulmonary embolism at the same time, per 2020 research.

Hemoptysis can be a medical emergency. If you cough up more than a teaspoon of blood, consider contacting a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

A COVID-19 cough is usually a dry cough. Other symptoms, such as fever and fatigue, often accompany it. Treating the cough with OTC methods can help you rest more easily while you recover.

Some signs may indicate that your COVID-19 cough may be serious. If you cough up blood or if your cough makes you very short of breath, get medical help right away.

How do you recognize the difference?

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