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Learn about your 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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Your Dry Cough May Also be Known as:
Cough dry

Dry Cough Symptoms

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

You've practiced what you're going to say 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.

Dry cough symptoms include:

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.

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.

Dry Cough Causes Overview

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.

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.
  • Bronchitis: The most common symptom of bronchitis is a dry cough. After a few days, the cough could begin to bring up mucus.

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.
  • 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.

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.
  • Sleep apnea: A 2007 report found a link between sleep apnea and a chronic dry cough.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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.

Top 9 Dry Cough Causes

  1. 1.Barrett's Esophagus

    Barrett esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus changes. These changes occur after longstanding gastro-esophageal reflux. Symptoms of gastro-esophageal reflux can be regurgitation, heartburn. Barretts esophagus is associated with a risk of developing malignant esophageal disease.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss these symptoms and if screening for this condition is useful. Your doctor will likely advise you to start preventive actions if you are at risk of developing Barretts esophagus. These actions usually include life style adjustments and medications.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, heartburn, regurgitation, sore throat, dry cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Viral Infection of the Larynx (Voice Box)

    Acute laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box (larynx) due to infection.The vocal cords are located inside the larynx. Normally, the vocal cords open and close freely, but in laryngitis, they become inflamed. This swelling causes distortion of the sounds produced by air passing over them, making one's resulting voice sound hoarse.

    You can safely treat this medical condition by yourself, as it is likely a viral infection. Home remedies such as gargling with salt water and staying hydrated will likely be enough to restore a lost voice.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, fever, runny nose, dry cough, hoarse voice
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Adult - Onset Asthma

    Asthma in adults is an under-diagnosed reason for a chronic cough. In general, asthma is caused by hyperactive inflammation of the lung's airways. This results in episodic dyspnea, coughing and wheezing which is triggered by for example exercise, cold air, pollen or dust.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss the diagnosis of adult-onset asthma, which requires a breathing test for confirmation. Upon diagnosis, your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan depending on your severity.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, wheezing, dry cough, shortness of breath at rest, shortness of breath on exertion
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Interstitial Lung Disease

    Interstitial lung disease is a group of lung disorders in which the deep lung tissues become inflamed and build up scar tissue (similar to a scab which develops on skin after a cut). Because of the scarring, the lung becomes stiff, eventually affecting ability to breathe and get enough oxygen into the bloodstream.

    You should visit your primary care physician. Interstitial lung disease is treated according to the cause of the scarring, usually with prescription medication.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    dry cough, shortness of breath, fingers looking plump
    Symptoms that always occur with interstitial lung disease:
    dry cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Dry Cough Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having dry cough.

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  5. 5.Sarcoidosis

    Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that most often affects the lungs and skin, but can als affect the joints.

    You should visit your physician to discuss your symptoms when convenient.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, joint pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Earwax Blockage

    Ear wax production is a normal process, as the body makes wax to protect the ear from infection. Sometimes ear wax can build up and cover the eardrum, which is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of the ear canal and picks up sound from outside. Ear wax buildup has nothing to do with poor hygiene, and it is not possible to prevent a build-up by washing.

    You should go to a retail clinic to be treated. You should NOT try removing the wax with cotton swabs, because you run the risk of pushing the ear wax further into the ear canal, and potentially damaging the ear canal or eardrum. A variety of ear drops exist that can be bought at the pharmacy, such as Debrox, Murine, and Cerumenex. You may also use other remedies such as mineral oil, baby oil, or glycerin ear drops instead of brand-name drops.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, vertigo (extreme dizziness), ringing in the ears
    Symptoms that never occur with earwax blockage:
    swollen ear, fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  7. 7.Non - Hodgkin Lymphoma

    Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. Cells in the lymph nodes or bone marrow grow abnormally and may spread beyond the lymphatic system.

    You should visit your primary care physician to confirm the diagnosis. Afterwards, a referral to a specialist will explain treatment options.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, shortness of breath
    Symptoms that never occur with non-hodgkin lymphoma:
    groin lump that comes and goes, shrinking groin lump, armpit lump that comes and goes, shrinking armpit lump, neck lump that comes and goes, shrinking neck bump
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Pulmonary Fibrosis

    Tissue deep in the lungs becomes scarred over time. This tissue gets thick and stiff, making it hard to catch a breath and for the body to receive enough oxygen.

    You should visit your primary care physician. It is likely that your physician will want to perform imaging (X-ray or MRI) of your lungs.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    dry cough, shortness of breath, fingers looking plump
    Symptoms that always occur with pulmonary fibrosis:
    dry cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)

    Acid reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation.

    You should visit your primary care physician if you get heartburn regularly. The doctor may be able to prescribe medications such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to reduce the acidity of the stomach. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food may help reduce heartburn as well.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, cough with dry or watery sputum, pain below the ribs, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Dry Cough Treatments and Relief

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.

  • 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Dry Cough

  • Q.Is your cough constant or come-and-go?
  • 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 currently smoke?

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

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Dry Cough Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced dry cough have also experienced:

    • 7% Sore Throat
    • 6% Congestion
    • 5% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced dry cough had symptoms persist for:

    • 34% Less Than a Week
    • 22% Two Weeks to a Month
    • 17% One to Two Weeks
  • People who have experienced dry cough were most often matched with:

    • 2% Viral Infection of the Larynx (Voice Box)
    • 2% Adult - Onset Asthma
  • 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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    Dry Cough Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having dry cough.

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