Dry Cough: Causes, Symptoms & How to Treat it

"In some cases, a dry cough can also be a warning sign of a more serious illness, especially if chronic"

Simply put, a dry cough is a cough that does not produce mucus. Sometimes it is accompanied by chest tightness and other times it may cause tickling at the back of the throat or throat pain. There are many different causes for dry coughs and just as many ways to find some relief. Find out how to distinguish a dry cough from a wet cough, how to prevent coughs altogether, and treatment methods to try.  

What Qualifies a Dry Cough?  

Coughing is a reflex that helps the body clear germs, toxins, and mucus from the lungs and trachea. When the cough is accompanied by phlegm from the lower respiratory tract, it is known as a wet, or productive, cough. Dry coughs, on the other hand, do not produce mucus and are triggered by inflamed and irritated upper airways. While wet coughs are typically associated with viruses like the common cold or flu, dry coughs can be caused by a number of things, from bacterial infections to smoke.  

Common Causes 

While dry coughs can be caused by a cold or flu, or more specifically the recovery from it, there are also a number of other causes that have nothing to do with these common viruses. 

Dry coughs can be caused by:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Side effects of certain medications like high blood pressure medication
  • Smoking and other environmental irritants
  • Post-nasal drip
  • COVID-19
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Croup
  • Laryngitis
  • Whooping cough
  • Emphysema

In some cases, a dry cough can also be a warning sign of a more serious illness, especially if chronic. These illnesses include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, sleep apnea, or tuberculosis.1 If you cough up blood, have difficulty breathing, hear wheezing, or have sudden, unexplained chest pain, you should contact your doctor.  

How to Know if You Have a Dry Cough  

The easiest way to distinguish a dry cough from a wet cough is the lack of mucus. If you are not producing mucus and you feel a constant tickle at the back of your throat, or potentially a sore throat, then you are likely suffering from a dry cough. Dry coughs can also cause chest tightness or pressure on the chest. But it’s important to note that sudden, unexplained chest pain can also be a sign of a heart attack, in which case you should seek immediate medical care.2

Be Prepared

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Preventing Coughs 

Depending on the cause, there are a variety of ways you can prevent a dry cough. If you believe your dry cough is the result of an underlying condition like asthma, treatment for this condition may help. If your dry cough is the side effect of a medication, ask your doctor if there is an alternative medication you can use. If your cough is associated with bacterial or viral infections, building up the immune system is imperative in lessening the frequency of dry coughs. 

Tips to support your immune system:

  • Practice good hygiene by washing your hands often, using hand sanitizer, and avoiding touching your face
  • Distance yourself from others in crowded areas and/or wear a mask 
  • Avoid irritants like tobacco smoke
  • Don’t skimp on sleep
  • Eat healthy foods like berries, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, which contain high levels of vitamins and minerals 
  • Load up on vitamins that support immune function like vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B6, and zinc
  • Hydrate often
  • Manage your stress and anxiety levels
  • Get vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 

Treatment Methods to Try 

Despite your best efforts, if you do end up developing a dry cough or you suffer from a chronic dry cough, here are some treatment methods to try.

  • Take Brillia Health Cough Control: Cough Control is a cough medication that is clinically proven to reduce the frequency and severity of both wet and dry coughs. Free from harsh, synthetic chemicals and harmful side effects, Cough Control quickly and efficiently eases your cough and relieves sore throat pain without making you groggy or upsetting your stomach. Unlike other cough medications, which overload your immune system with harsh chemicals, Cough Control uses antibody science to precisely target the macromolecules in your system that help respond to illnesses. In addition to reducing inflammation and calming the cough reflex, Cough Control also alleviates the stress normally put on the body by a persistent cough, helping the body fight off the cause of cough quickly and efficiently.
  • Use a humidifier: Dry air triggers or exacerbates dry coughs. Improve the air quality in your home by using a humidifier, which may relieve or prevent your dry cough.
  • Try honey: Some studies show that honey is just as effective as the common cough suppressant ingredient, dextromethorphan.3 Not only does it suppress coughing, but it also helps improve sleep and tastes great.
  • Make a cup of herbal tea: Hot liquids like tea can help soothe a sore throat caused from dry coughing, but some herbal teas have added benefits. Licorice root tea, ginger tea, green tea, marshmallow root tea, thyme tea, and peppermint tea have all been shown to reduce inflammation and ease your dry cough.4
  • Take probiotics: There is some evidence that probiotics may also reduce coughing associated with upper respiratory tract infections.5 

Though it can be tempting to take an over-the-counter cough medicine when dealing with a cough, it’s important to note that these drugs often come with harsh side effects that dampen the system. Instead of resorting to these chemicals and feeling drowsy without addressing the root cause of the cough, consider gentle methods first that will support your immune system instead of overloading it. And always practice healthy lifestyle habits to ensure you don’t develop a cough in the first place. 

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References: 1https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21888-dry-cough-and-chest-tightness, 2https://www.healthline.com/health/dry-cough-and-chest-pain, 3https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18056558/, 4https://www.healthline.com/health/tea-for-cough#marshmallow-root-tea, 5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3833495/

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