Coronavirus symptoms: how to tell the difference between a dry and a wet cough

To guard against spreading the coronavirus, you should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your bent elbow when you cough.
To guard against spreading the coronavirus, you should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your bent elbow when you cough.
Image: 123RF/Diego Vito Cervo

It’s safe to say the coronavirus has understandably made many people more than a little paranoid.

Runny nose? Oh no — it’s corona! Feeling a little dizzy — corona again. And then there is the issue of coughing. But not just any cough — a dry cough.

A dry cough is one of the three most common symptoms associated with Covid-19, according to the World Health Organisation. The other two are fever and tiredness.

But what exactly is a dry cough? And how do you tell the difference between a dry cough and a wet one, which is also known as a productive or chesty cough? 

The National Health Service (NHS), England's publicly funded health-care system, says a cough is a reflex action to clear your airways of mucus and irritants such as dust or smoke.

The NHS website explains: “A ‘dry cough’ means it's tickly and doesn't produce any phlegm (thick mucus). A ‘chesty cough’ means phlegm is produced to help clear your airways.”

According to the NHS, a cough is rarely a sign of anything serious. However, in the case of the coranavirus, a dry cough can be a sign of infection.

Other Covid-19 symptoms include shortness of breath, aches and pains and a sore throat. A few people have also reported diarrhea, nausea and a runny nose.

If you display any of these symptoms and think you might have contracted the coronavirus, seek medical assistance.

However, don't just arrive at your health-care provider's rooms without giving them advance warning over the phone - this will allow them to take the appropriate precautions to protect themselves, their staff and other patients.

You can also call the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) helpline on 0800 029 999 to be advised on possible coronavirus testing facilities.


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