Is coughing causing a lot of distress to you and to people around you? Are you tired of your nagging cough which is not leaving you? 

In today’s article, we will look at what is dry cough and what causes it? What are some of the complications that you should look for and when to see your doctor?

Cough is an important defense mechanism of the body but persistent dry cough impacts the quality of life. A cough is sudden, forceful reflux that clears your throat of mucus (a normal, slippery, and stringy fluid in the nose) or foreign substances. Cough can be dry (nonproductive) or wet (productive). 

  • A dry cough is one that does not produce phlegm or mucus

  • A wet cough is any cough that produces mucus

An acute cough is one that lasts for less than 3 weeks. When a cough lasts longer than 8 weeks in adults or 4 weeks in children, it is known as chronic cough. 

Dry coughs can be persistent (continuous) and can start without any symptoms. It is commonly caused by environmental irritation or allergies. A chronic dry cough can pose a threat to your overall health, sometimes, resulting in severe lung disease.

Common Causes  of Dry Cough

1. Postnasal Drip: Nasal allergies and infections are some of the commonest causes of a postnasal drip. These are secretions from the nose and nasopharynx (the upper part of the pharynx, also known as the throat), leading to constant irritation in the throat and a cough. This condition is known as upper airway cough syndrome (UACS).

Your nasal passage is a channel of airflow through the nose. The walls of your nasal passages are coated with mucus membranes, which contain tiny hair-like cells that are responsible for the movement of mucus towards the throat.

When you are down with a cold or an allergy, the membranes lining your nasal passages become swollen, inflamed, and irritated. As a result, these inflamed tissues begin to produce more mucus, to flush out the allergen (any substance that is eaten or inhaled, such as dust, pollen, or pet dander) that causes the irritation. This build-up of mucus that drains down from your nose into the throat is known as postnasal drip. 

2. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR): GERD is a digestive disorder in which the contents of your stomach refluxes or backs up into your esophagus (food pipe). LPR is a condition in which acid that is made in the stomach travels up the esophagus and gets to the throat. 

Although GERD and LPR are slightly different disorders, both cause respiratory symptoms of coughing, especially dry coughing and wheezing (whistling noise while breathing, which occurs due to air being forced through a narrower passageway).

Individuals with GERD or LPR normally have a cough that is worse on lying down. They will typically complain of a choked and a dry throat on waking up in the morning. 

3. Asthma: Studies claim that asthma can cause a dry cough. Asthma is a respiratory condition in which your airways become narrow, constricted, and inflamed, making it difficult for you to breathe. This cough is usually seasonal - during the spring and the autumn season. 

Also, chronic dry cough is the main symptom of a type of asthma called cough variant asthma (CVA).

4. Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI): URTIs are common viral infections that affect your nose, throat, and airways. URTIs can increase mucus secretion, leading to the inflammation of the mucus membranes, resulting in a cough.

5. Exposure to Environmental Irritants: Various air pollutants and irritants in the environment, such as particulate matter, cigarette smoke, biomass fuel, or industrial dust and gas, can cause chronic cough if you live especially in the bigger cities. 

6. Lung Cancer: Coughing is a symptom in individuals diagnosed with lung cancer. The cough associated with lung cancer can be dry or wet.

7. Smoking: If you smoke regularly, you are most likely to cough often. Coughing is a way by which your body forces out substances and chemicals that enter your throat and lungs due to tobacco use from smoking.

Symptoms of Dry Cough

The symptoms of a dry cough depend upon its causative factors. Sometimes, it is followed by a cold and eventually ends up with mucus production. Common symptoms include sore throat and difficulty in swallowing.

Problems Due to Dry Cough

  • Breathlessness

  • High fever 

  • Chest pain  

  • Hemoptysis (coughing of blood)

  • Congestive heart failure (CHF) (a condition where fluid builds up in the heart which leads to inefficient pumping  of blood by the heart)

  • Lung cancer 

Remedies For Dry Cough

You can treat a mild dry cough with simple home remedies such as:

1. Steam inhalation through a humidifier/inhaler/vaporizer to thin out mucus membranes and nasal congestion. It also helps soothe your sore throat and reduces cough.

2. Drink ginger and honey tea to soothe your irritated throat to reduce excessive coughing. The anti inflammatory properties of honey and ginger also help to reduce postnasal drip by reducing inflammation of the nasal passages.

3. Wear a face mask to reduce the effects of short-term exposure to air pollution and other environmental irritants.

4. Drink enough water to thin out the mucus and keep your nose and throat moist. This will decrease the irritation in your throat and help in reducing cough.

5. Take proper rest and elevate your head with 2-3 pillows while sleeping at night. A raised head can reduce mucus formation that flares up if you sleep flat. Reduction in mucus buildup will relieve some discomfort.

In case the cough persists or you experience any of the above-mentioned complications, have yourself checked. After your basic examination, your doctor/ENT specialist might recommend getting a couple of lab tests done for a proper diagnosis and correct treatment. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.