There are various causes of a dry cough, from benign to serious. A physician will take other symptoms into consideration when diagnosing what's causing a dry cough. A dry cough can be a symptom of a respiratory tract infection, allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, lung cancer, or exposure to cigarette smoke. Any cough that lasts longer than 10 days, or which is accompanied by a fever, sore neck, wheezing, difficulty breathing, or a bloody or green discharge needs to be evaluated by a doctor immediately.
A respiratory tract infection is one of the more common causes of a dry cough. Respiratory tract infections include colds, influenza, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Other symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, sore or itchy throat, body aches, watering eyes, a fever, and sneezing. Symptoms of sinusitis, which often develops as a complication of the common cold, include congestion, pain in the face, concentrated around the forehead, cheeks, or eyes, tooth pain, and trouble smelling or tasting.
Allergies can also cause a dry cough. Allergies to outdoor or indoor substances, such as pet dander, pollen, mold, or dust, can cause a dry cough, sneezing, itching, watery eyes, and a sore throat. Symptoms of allergies often depend on the weather and level of exposure. A dry cough that comes and goes may be caused by an allergy.
Another possible cause of a dry cough is asthma. Additional symptoms of asthma include chest pain or tightness, whistling or wheezing while trying to breath, and a shortness of breath. People who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, experience a dry cough, along with shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and frequent respiratory infections.
One of the most serious causes of a dry cough is lung cancer. Additional symptoms of lung cancer include coughing up blood, bone pain, chest pain, weight loss, headaches, wheezing, and shortness of breath. While serious, lung cancer is a rare cause of a dry cough.
Most cases of a dry cough are caused by mild irritations of the respiratory tract, such as the common cold, allergies, or inhaled dust. Treat these coughs with cough drops or hard candy to soothe the throat, and by drinking plenty of water and other fluids. Increasing the moisture level in your home with a humidifier can also provide relief from a dry cough.