What Causes Dry Cough?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

There are a number of reasons for a patient to develop a dry cough, ranging from the early signs of a respiratory infection to a cancerous growth in the lungs. Persistent dry coughs should be treated by a doctor, as he or she can determine the cause and recommend a treatment which will address the underlying issues. Failure to receive treatment for this kind of cough can allow an underlying problem to become quite severe, a very undesirable outcome.

Smoking may cause a dry cough.
Smoking may cause a dry cough.

Some people experience dry coughs in the early stages of a respiratory or viral infection, or when an infection is on the wane. When such infections are at their peak, the cough usually becomes productive, with coughs bringing up sputum, in contrast with a true dry cough, which tends to feel dry and rasping. People with chronic infections can develop very severe coughs which may leave the throat feeling very tender.

Many things can cause a dry cough.
Many things can cause a dry cough.

Irritation to the lungs or trachea is another common cause. People with asthma often have chronic dry coughs, as do smokers and people who live in areas with substantial air pollution or very dry air. A foreign body in the throat can also cause coughing as the throat experiences irritation and attempts to expel the object which does not belong. Gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD) can also cause coughing, as the gastric juices irritate the lining of the trachea and generate coughing.

Air pollution may cause dry cough.
Air pollution may cause dry cough.

Certain medications are associated with dry coughs, in which case the cough is usually listed as a side effect. Pulmonary diseases are another common cause, as are allergies, especially seasonal allergies to pollen and other particulates which can be present in the air. Sinus problems and an issue known as postnasal drip, in which mucus accumulates in the back of the throat, are also linked with coughing, although more commonly people with sinus problems cough up mucus.

An irritated trachea can cause dry coughing.
An irritated trachea can cause dry coughing.

A rasping, hacking cough can be extremely irritating and frustrating, not just for the patient, but for the people he or she lives and works around. Coughing is a sign that something in the respiratory system is distressed or not working properly, and it indicates that a trip to the doctor is necessary. There may be cases in which no treatment is available, but going to the doctor is still important, so that he or she can determine the cause of the coughing. Doctors may also be able to provide suggestions which can help to alleviate the cough, even if it cannot be cured.

Sinus problems and psot-nasal drip are associated with dry cough.
Sinus problems and psot-nasal drip are associated with dry cough.
A dry cough can be a symptom of lung cancer.
A dry cough can be a symptom of lung cancer.
A chest cold might produce a dry cough.
A chest cold might produce a dry cough.
Gastric reflux disease may cause a dry cough.
Gastric reflux disease may cause a dry cough.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have had a cough for the past six years. Some days it disappears,but many days it doesn't. I have a very strong cough when I'm in a dusty atmosphere.

Every day, I used to cough whenever I sat down. If I play, I don't feel like coughing. Two hours after playing again, I am coughing. Please help me with this matter. I frequently used Lamont. It's a allergy cough tablet.


For almost one year, I have had a deep cough three or four times every day from my lungs.

I drink three or four liters of water daily and

have not smoked in over a year, but I'm still having this cough three or four times every day. Please advise how I can clear this up.


The best medicine for a dry cough is menthol cough drops. You can buy them in fruity flavors so that they are enjoyable to use, and they instantly soothe a dry cough.

I use them when I have a cold or any sort of throat irritation that makes me cough. The menthol opens up my sinuses and the drops moisturize and coat my throat with soothing agents.


@lighth0se33 – I get irritated by stuff in the air, too. I also have a weird problem with fuzzy blankets. If I get near one, I develop a dry cough with phlegm that comes not long after it starts.

I figured this out when my boyfriend got me a beautiful plush blanket for my birthday. It looked so soft and cozy, but after I curled up with it near my face, I started coughing.

The cough seemed to come from deep inside my lungs. At first, it was dry and just seemed to point toward irritation. Within a couple of hours, though, I was coughing up phlegm.

I put the blanket in my closet, and the problem started to clear up. I'm sad that I can't use my fuzzy blanket anymore, but it's dangerous for me!


The reasons for my dry cough are usually environmental. I can't be in a room with a lot of dust or outside while someone is mowing the lawn, because I will cough for hours afterward.

Even after I get to a room with clean air, the cough persists. I just have to get the irritants out of my airways, and coughing is the only way to do that.

I used to live on a dirt road, and every time that a car would drive by, I would have a coughing fit. Thankfully, the county paved the road years ago, so I can stand to be outside when traffic is passing my driveway now.


I have gotten a rather excessive dry cough before when food was stuck in my throat. I'm not talking about airway blockages or anything like that. Instead, it was just a couple of sharp crumbs.

My throat was incredibly irritated, and my cough was a mixture of voluntary and involuntary reactions. I finally produced the crumbs, but it took a lot of hacking, and my throat was quite sore afterward.


@carrotisland: i have personally used black pepper, but you have to swallow it with a glass of lukewarm milk. It is very effective.


my five year old has trachea irritation and meds. are not helping. any ideas?


I also had an acute dry cough for more than three months immediately after taking hypertension medication. Now I have it twice a day and when I lie down to sleep.

In a way I found a way to relive myself from the tickling that provoked the cough. What you need to do is to take water into your mouth, keep it in, move your head upward to look at the ceiling then swallow slowly. That will make the urge to cough fade away. Ahmed from Bahrain.


@carrotisland: Actually, yes. I have a book about home remedies for just about everything. I looked up dry cough and it said that you can eat 3-4 balls of black pepper with caraway seeds and a pinch of salt. Suck on it for as long as needed. I haven’t tried it but it was in there.

I personally use turmeric for dry cough. I use about a Tbsp. of honey and add a pinch of turmeric to it and take it before bedtime. It relieves that horrible night cough.


Thanks to all who posted remedies for dry cough. I was wondering if anyone has ever heard of eating black pepper for relief of cough? I can remember my grandmother talking about eating pepper when we were little but I wasn’t sure if she was kidding or not.


@waterhopper: I occasionally get a dry cough and my sister told me to try chewing on a fresh piece of ginger with a little salt on it. It’s not necessarily the best tasting thing in the world, but it seems to provide some relief. If you can’t chew the raw ginger, you can chop it up and add it to a cup of water and boil it for a few minutes. Strain the water and then drink it. You can add honey to it for taste.


@waterhopper: I am a big fan of home remedies (when possible). One thing that I do for dry cough is to drink a mixture of lemon juice, warm water, and honey three times a day while the cough is persistent. Some people mix a small amount of whiskey in with the lemon juice and honey instead of water.

Also, gargling with warm, salty water is not just a well known treatment for a sore throat. It helps with those dry coughs, too.


What can be done to treat dry cough?

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