Dry Cough: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Coughing is a natural mechanism of the body to clean the airways. The airways may get irritated after inhalation of smoke, dust, microbes, foreign particles, etc. At times, people suffering from heartburn may suffer from coughing bouts due to rising stomach acid. The presence of excessive phlegm could trigger cough due to irritation of the cilia present in the airways.

There are different types of cough, depending on their character, quality, duration, and timing. One may develop an acute (sudden) or chronic (long-lasting) cough. It may occur during the day or just night; in some cases, both during the night and day. It can be a productive cough (when one coughs up sputum) or non-productive (dry cough).

In this article, we shall learn more in detail about dry cough, which is also called a non-productive cough.

What is Dry Cough?

Coughing is the body’s way of removing irritants from the upper respiratory tract and lungs. It is often a symptom of some ailment affecting the respiratory tract. A dry cough is a type of non-productive cough that does not lead to sputum production. It is often experienced after one is exposed to an irritant like dust, smoke, or foreign particle. One may suffer from a dry cough at the end of a cold. It feels like a tickle in the throat that leads to coughing.

What Causes Dry Cough?

There are many causes of dry cough. Some of the reasons include:

  • A common cold that lasts for many weeks can lead to a dry cough.
  • Spasms occurring in the bronchial tubes that lead to irritation, especially in the night
  • Allergies can trigger a dry cough.
  • Asthma, airway obstruction, trauma to the airway can lead to a dry cough.
  • The presence of foreign bodies like food particles while eating or a pill enters the windpipe can lead to a dry cough.
  • Smoke, dust as well as dry air in an air-conditioned room
  • Medicines, which control high blood pressure, can cause dry cough.
  • Ailments such as cystic fibrosis, bronchitis, COPD, etc. can cause dry cough.

Symptoms of Dry Cough

Dry cough leads to tickling and irritation. Symptoms include:

  • Rasping, hackling sound
  • Pain in the throat, chest, ribs and upper abdomen due to the coughing action

Diagnosis of dry cough

The dry cough usually does not require any specific tests for diagnosis. A persistent dry cough may need the doctor to determine if it is specific or non-specific. If one develops other symptoms along with a dry cough, the doctor may ask for X-rays, lab tests, etc.

Treatment of dry cough

Dry coughs usually do not require any treatment. They tend to resolve on their own. However, a persistent dry cough that leads to pain and disruption in daily activities needs medical help. The doctor may suggest suppressants that help in reducing the urge to cough. However, if there is excessive phlegm in the airways, do not take suppressants.

Home Remedies for Dry Cough

As the dry cough usually does not require medical treatment, one can try home remedies to overcome the irritation. 

These home remedies for dry cough include:

  • Have cough syrups that coat the throat. These over-the-counter cough syrups help in reducing the urge to cough.
  • A lozenge (medicated tablet dissolves slowly in the mouth) is very helpful in coating the throat and give relief from the constant coughing.
  • Drinking warm lemon water added with a teaspoon of honey is very helpful in treating dry cough. However, avoid honey for children under one year of age.
  • Warm tea also helps in giving relief to the irritation in the throat.
  • Chew on a small piece of fresh ginger for relief from dry cough.
  • One can add a few pieces of chopped fresh ginger to a cup of water. Boil until only half of the water remains. Strain and drink the infusion after adding a spoonful of honey for relief.
  • Mix a pinch of turmeric in a spoonful of honey and drink it before you retire for the night. 
  • Soak 3-4 almonds overnight. Peel them in the morning and grind to a paste. Mix honey to this paste and eat it up. Continue this remedy for 2-3 days.

A dry cough is mostly a symptom rather than a disease itself. If the cough lasts for more than four weeks, is accompanied by wheezing, obstruction of airways, asthma, etc. visit the doctor for help.