Read below about dry cough, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your dry cough from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Dry Cough Symptoms

You're in one of the most important meetings of your life and the director of your company has flown across the country to lead a discussion on your company's growth. You obviously want to make the perfect first impression.

You've practiced what you're going to say over and over in your mind or even in the mirror, but when the moment comes, a dry cough suddenly erupts. You excuse yourself and take a sip of water, but this cough persists. You're embarrassed, defeated, and the director looks less than impressed.

A dry cough, while normally a symptom of a common illness or condition, can signal serious health problems. [1]

Dry cough symptoms include: [8, 9]

It can be normal for dry cough symptoms to last a week or two. At the most, they should clear up within three weeks. After a viral illness, some coughs can last up to eight weeks. [9]

However, a cough that sticks around for more than eight weeks (or four weeks in children) is considered a chronic cough and should be evaluated and treated. [9]

Dry Cough Causes

In many cases, a dry cough doesn't breed concern as it's accompanied by other symptoms that signal a simple cold. But if your cough is persistent, consider other common causes of a dry cough. [1]

Illness-related dry cough causes:

  • Upper respiratory infections: More commonly known as a cold, URIs can cause a variety of coughs, including dry coughs. In 25% of cases, a dry cough can persist for four weeks. [2]
  • Bronchitis: The most common symptom of bronchitis is a dry cough. After a few days, the cough could begin to bring up mucus. [3]

Lifestyle choices:

  • Smoking: Smoking irritates the throat, leading to a dry and persistent cough. Heavier smokers may experience a wetter cough that's worse in the morning. [4]
  • Habit cough: Though not a conscious lifestyle choice, some people experience a persistent dry cough for no apparent reason. The cough is considered a subconscious habit. [4]

Conditions and diseases:

  • Asthma: Not all diagnosed with asthma will experience a dry cough. Cough-variant asthma does not produce classic symptoms, like shortness of breath or wheezing. Instead, a chronic and dry cough is the main symptom. This may be especially true after exposure to irritants like cold air or ambient smoke. [5]
  • Sleep apnea: A 2007 report found a link between sleep apnea and a chronic dry cough. [6]
  • Heart failure: While not a common cause of dry cough, a weak heart can cause fluid to back up into the lungs. Lung congestion can then cause a dry cough. [1]

Lung-related dry cough causes:

  • Pulmonary embolism: PE, or blood clots in the lungs, can be a life-threatening condition. Chest pain and shortness of breath are more common symptoms, but a sudden dry cough can be a sign. [4]
  • Lung cancer: About half of those diagnosed with lung cancer have a persistent dry cough. If you're a heavy smoker or have a family history of lung cancer, a persistent cough warrants a visit to your health practitioner. [4, 7]

9 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced dry cough. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    Symptoms resolve within 1-2 weeks.

    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
  2. 2.Benign Cough

    Coughing is a reflex used to keep the throat and airways clear and healthy. When it occurs without fever or other signs of infection, it is considered benign.

    Days to years

    Top Symptoms:
    cough, cough with dry or watery sputum, severe cough
    Symptoms that always occur with benign cough:
    Symptoms that never occur with benign cough:
    fever, severe cough, being severely ill, coughing up blood
  3. 3.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
  4. 4.Bacterial Pneumonia

    Bacterial pneumonia is the infection of the lungs with bacteria (as opposed to a fungus or a virus).

    1-3 weeks

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath
    Symptoms that always occur with bacterial pneumonia:
    In-person visit

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  5. 5.Viral Pneumonia

    Viral pneumonia is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lungs due to infection with a virus. Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type, which is usually acquired in public areas such as at work, school, or grocery store.

    Symptoms begin to improve within a few days.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Viral Throat Infection

    Viral pharyngitis is an inflammation of the pharynx, the part of the throat between the nasal cavity and mouth, which causes throat pain.

    Symptoms generally resolve within 3-4 days

    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, cough, congestion, fever, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with viral throat infection:
    sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with viral throat infection:
    being severely ill
  7. 7.Chronic Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness.

    Likely a lifelong condition

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, productive cough, wheezing, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic bronchitis:
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Post - Infectious Cough

    Post-infectious upper airway cough is a condition that can develop as a direct result of a previous infection of the airways. In adults, this is the most common cause of chronic (persistent) cough.

    2 weeks with treatment.

    Top Symptoms:
    cough, congestion, clear runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with post-infectious cough:
    Symptoms that never occur with post-infectious cough:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  9. 9.Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (Copd)

    COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a chronic condition of the lungs and the airways in the lungs. Damage has occured due to long-term exposure to substances that irritate and damage the lungs, such as cigarette smoke or air pollution. This damage can cause symptoms like shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance and cough. A common cold or other types of infection can cause symptoms to worden acutely, this is called an exacerbation.

    Often a lifelong condition

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough and dyspnea related to smoking, cough, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd):
    cough and dyspnea related to smoking
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd):
    rectal bleeding
    Primary care doctor

Dry Cough Treatments, Relief and Prevention

Waiting for a dry cough to go away could make treatment more intense.

If you're experiencing any of the following dry cough symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

If you don't believe your dry cough symptoms are linked to anything serious, there are several at-home treatments you can try to encourage your body to eliminate the cause of your cough. [10]

  • Oral Demulcents: Demulcents soothe the pharynx and relieve irritation. You can try a cough syrup containing sugar and glycerol or add honey and lemon to warm water.
  • Cough Suppressants: Just as the name suggests, this treatment will suppress the urge to cough and include lozenges and cough syrups.
  • Increase fluids: Drinking more fluids, especially water, can keep the pharynx coated and reduce the tickling urge to cough.
  • Salt water: If your dry cough is caused by an irritated throat, gargling with salt water as needed will help. Salt removes water from mucous membrane cells, reducing swelling.
  • Avoid triggers: Dry coughs caused by chronic conditions, like asthma, can be minimized by avoiding individual triggers, such as cold and dry air, pollution, cigarette smoke, or excessive talking or yelling.

A dry cough can be a nuisance. If the cause of yours is considered serious, starting dry cough treatment as soon as possible is strongly advised. Otherwise, finding safe ways to suppress the cough is your best course of action.

FAQs About Dry Cough

Here are some frequently asked questions about dry cough.

Can a dry cough be contagious?

Yes, depending on the cause of a dry cough, it can be contagious. Dry coughs can be caused by post nasal drip, which means mucus dripping from the back of the nose into the throat causing irritation. Additionally, a dry cough can also be caused by smoking (smokers cough). Certain allergies can also lead to a dry cough. However, none of these causes are contagious. However, if you have a dry cough as part of a cold or infection, it can be contagious. It is difficult to know the cause of your cough without medical evaluation, so it is always necessary to cover your mouth. [9]

Does asthma cause dry coughing?

Yes, asthma can cause a dry cough. This is often called cough variant asthma and can be triggered by the same triggers as normal asthma, including dust, cold air, stress, pollen, and change of seasons. Cough variant asthma is confirmed by its responsiveness to standard treatments for asthma. If you take your asthma treatments as prescribed and continue to cough, you may have something other than cough variant asthma. [5]

Can a dry cough be caused by allergies?

Yes, dry coughs often are caused by allergies. Cough variant asthma and upper airway cough syndrome are types of coughing syndromes that can be associated with particular allergies. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also cause coughing and can be aggravated by food allergies. [15]

Why is my dry cough worse at night?

A dry cough that is worse at night may be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), asthma, and post-nasal drip. GERD can be worse at night when you lie down as stomach contents, particularly stomach acid, can reflux out of the stomach and cause a cough by irritating the nerves of the esophagus. Asthma can be triggered by cold, dry air which tends to be present at night. Post nasal drip can also be more pronounced and cause worse coughing when an individual lies flat. [5, 17]

Why does my dry cough make me vomit?

Severe coughing can trigger vomiting. This, however, is uncommon and should be evaluated by a medical professional. Chronic coughs like cough variant asthma, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), and post nasal drip usually do not cause vomiting. A cough from a severe cold, however, or a severe string of coughs from some irritant can cause vomiting. [16]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Dry Cough

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Do you have a sore throat?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our dry cough symptom checker to find out more.

Dry Cough Quiz

Dry Cough Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced dry cough have also experienced:

    • 8% Sore Throat
    • 5% Congestion
    • 4% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced dry cough had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Less Than a Week
    • 23% Two Weeks to a Month
    • 18% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced dry cough were most often matched with:

    • 33% Bronchitis
    • 33% Benign Cough
    • 33% Common Cold
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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  1. Cough Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors. American Lung Association. Published July 13, 2016. American Lung Association Link.
  2. Acute Upper Respiratory Infection (Cold). UCSF Student Health & Counseling. UCSF Student Health & Counseling Link.
  3. Acute Bronchitis: Overview. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Published September 7, 2017. NCBI Link.
  4. Thompson EG, Husney A. Aging and Disability Resources. Network of Care. Published December 6, 2017. Network of Care Link.
  5. Cough-Variant Asthma. The Asthma Center. The Asthma Center Link.
  6. Birring SS, Ing AJ, Chan K, Cossa G, Matos S, Morgan MDL, Pavord ID. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea: A Cause of Chronic Cough. Cough Journal. 2007;3:7. BMC Link.
  7. Symptoms of Lung Cancer. LungCancer.Co. LungCancer.Co Link.
  8. Chew BH. Chronic Cough with Multiple Causes. Malaysian Family Physician. 2010;5(2):101-104.
  9. When A Cough Isn't Just A Cough. University of Wisconsin-Madison: University Health Services. University Health Services Link.
  10. Sultana S, Khan A, Safhi MM, Alhazmi HA. Cough Suppressant Herbal Drugs: A Review. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Science Invention. 2016;5(5):15-28. PubMed Link.
  11. Signs of Allergies. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. ACAAI Link.
  12. Cough Symptoms & Causes. Boston Children's Hospital. Boston Children's Hospital Link.
  13. Xu X, Chen Q, Liang S, LU H, Qiu Z. Successful Resolution of Refractory Chronic Cough Induced By Gastroesophageal Reflux with Treatment of Baclofen. Cough Journal. 2012;8:8. BMC Link.