Dry Cough (Chronic) Causes

Cough is a spontaneous reflex. When you breathe things like germs, mucus, or dust your body automatically protects you by coughing. Knowing the type of cough helps you to get proper treatment. Here is basic information on a dry cough that can help you

What is a dry cough?

When you have a respiratory problem and your cough doesn't produce mucus phlegm this is called dry cough or unproductive cough.1


The most common causes of dry cough include:2 

  • Viral infection of the upper respiratory tract is also called the common cold: the most common cause of coughing related to illness is infection of the nose and throat. They are associated with fevers, sore throat and runny nose. They are almost always caused by viruses and include the common cold, viral laryngitis and influenza1
  • Upper airway gastroesophageal reflex diseases: disorder occurs when acid from the stomach frequently backs up into the esophagus resulting in heartburn. When the acid rises into the throat it can cause a dry cough1
  • Cough variant asthma
  • Eosinophilic bronchitis
  • Mediastinal trauma
  • Pleural disease
  • Early interstitial fibrosis
  • Drug (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor (ACEI) uses in the treatment of high blood pressure) 

Other causes include:3

  • Smoking 
  • Whooping cough ( pertussis)
  • Vocal cord dsfuction
  • Allergic: A common allergic condition that pantomimes the symptoms of a common cold. It is associated with a dry cough, sneezing, and runny nose
  • Pneumonia

What’s the difference between a dry cough and a wet cough?

As mentioned above, dry cough doesn’t produce mucus or phlegm, also called in-production cough. But when you cough up mucus or phlegm, this is called a wet or productive cough.1

What are the symptoms of a dry cough?

The symptoms of dry cough are a tickling sensation in the throat, so the patient feels he needs to empty their throat and they strongly expired air. Other short their throat became dry and irritated. After a few weeks of dry cough may feel chest pain because the lungs and chest muscles become strained.4

 Common cold is one of the major causes of dry cough symptoms of common cold include:5 

  • Runny nose 
  • Sneezing
  • Scratchy thorat
  • Nasal stiffness 
  • Sever fatigue

What to avoid when having a dry cough?

You must avoid:3

  • Irritants and allergens like mold, chemicals
  • Smoking

Others include:6

  • Avoid cold and dry air
  • Avoid air pollution
  • Avoid excessive use of your voice 
  • Avoiding change in temperature
  • Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke

Treatment and remedies 

You treat the dry cough by treating the underlying causes. Usually, cough medication is not helpful. Children that are younger than 4 years old, shouldn't take any cough medicine because these medications have serious side effects.3 

Cough medication:cough suppressent, known as antitussives, operated for the short-term treatment of dry coughs in adults. Cough medication work by suppressing the urge to cough, and include any of the active ingredients pholcodine, dextromethorphan, codeine, dihydrocodeine, and pentoxyverine. They are available as:6

  • lozenges (which may also contain an antibacterial to help soothe a sore throat); or
  • liquid or linctus (cough mixture)

Some cough medications need a prescription from your doctor, and some others are available from pharmacies without a prescription. The side effects of cough suppressants include nausea, vomiting, and sleepiness

At-home dry cough remedies include:3

  • Use a humidifier: or you can take a steamy shower or get a hot bath to get more moisture, theses extra moisture soothes sore throat and nasal passage and eases dry cough 
  • Take honey: honey stops coughing better than cough medicine. Children under 1 year should never take honey because it causes botulism
  • Drink plenty of liquid to stay hydrated
  • Suck on a cough drop or hard sweets: this promotes saliva production that soothes the throat. Children under 4 years shouldn't give cough drops because they can schok

Do antibiotics help?

Upper respiratory tract infection that causes dry cough is caused by virus, not bacteria. Antibiotics are useful in the treatment of bacterial infection, not viral infection, so antibiotics are not helpful in the treatment of dry cough.5

When to seek medical attention:

Other include:6

  • If you are a cigarette smoker
  • If you have a hoarse voice
  • If your cough is associated with vomiting or a choking sensation
  • If you express other symptoms such as an ongoing headache, sore ears, or a rash
  • you have recently lost weight or have general muscle aches
  • If your cough has lasted longer than 10 days, with no improvement
  • If your cough is in an infant aged 6 months or younger 
  • If you have high blood pressure( hypertension), a heart complaint, respiratory illness (such as asthma), gastrointestinal problems, or are taking other medicines


Cough is a spontaneous reflex. When you breathe things like germs, mucus, or dust your body automatically protects you by coughing. Dry cough doesn’t produce mucus or phlegm, also called in-production cough. But when you cough up mucus or phlegm, this is called a wet or productive cough. The most common causes of dry cough include Viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, Upper air way gastroesophageal reflex diseases, Cough variant asthma, Eosinophilic bronchitis, Mediastinal trauma, Pleural disease, Early interstitial fibrosis and Drug. The main symptom of dry cough is sore throat. Symptoms of a common cold include: Runny nose, Sneezing, Scratchy throat, Nasal stiffness, Sever fatigue. When you have a dry cough, you must avoid smoking, irritants and allergens like mold, chemicals, cold and dry air, air pollution, excessive use of your voice, changes in temperature and exposure to tobacco smoke. Treatment of dry cough either by cough medication or can be remedied at home. Antibiotics are not helpful in the treatment of dry cough. If you are Coughing up blood, you have Fever and chills, Difficulty of breathing, Extreme fatigue, Sudden chest pain, you have a hoarse voice, and you are a hypertensive person then you must seek medical attention.

  1. Learn About Cough. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/warning-signs-of-lung-disease/cough/learn-about-cough.
  2. Mahashur, Ashok. ‘Chronic Dry Cough: Diagnostic and Management Approaches’. Lung India : Official Organ of Indian Chest Society, vol. 32, no. 1, 2015, pp. 44–49. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-2113.148450.
  3. ‘Dry Cough With Chest Tightness: Causes & Treatment’. Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21888-dry-cough-and-chest-tightness. 
  4. ‘Is Dry Cough a Symptom of Lung Cancer? Causes and Remedies’. Lung Cancer Center, https://www.lungcancercenter.com/lung-cancer/symptoms/dry-cough/.
  5. Torpy, Janet, et al. ‘Coughs, Colds, and Antibiotics’. JAMA, vol. 289, no. 20, May 2003, p. 2750. Silverchair, https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.289.20.2619.
  6. myDr. ‘Cough: Dry Cough’. MyDr.Com.Au, 27 Jan. 2019, https://www.mydr.com.au/symptoms/cough-dry-cough/.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Malaz Ameer Ata Almanan

Medical Student - University of Bahri, Khartoum, Sudan

Malaz Ameer Ata Almanan Mohammed. 4th year medical student. Researcher enthusiast. Passionate about ophthalmic surgery. I would like to be ophthalmologist.

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