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What is dry cough?

A non-productive, irritating type of cough where no phlegm or mucus is produced is termed as a dry cough. It is generally associated with a tickling sensation in the throat.

What are its main signs and symptoms?

Signs and symptoms associated with dry cough include:

What are the main causes?

A dry cough is mainly caused by:

  • Viral illness (cold, flu [influenza] or post-viral or post-infective cough [in which cough is present for weeks following viral illness])
  • Asthma
  • Whooping cough
  • Inflammation of the larynx (laryngitis) or certain types of lung diseases (interstitial lung disease)
  • Smoking
  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever, due to inhalation of allergens such as pet dander, pollen or dust) or inhaled foreign body, which is more common in babies and children
  • Medicinal side effects (angiotensin-converting-enzyme [ACE] inhibitors for high blood pressure)
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux or post-nasal drip (the drainage of mucus secretions from the nose or sinuses down the back of the throat)
  • Snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea

Less common causes of a dry cough include:

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Initially, your physician will take a detailed history of a cough and any other symptoms, following which a physical examination will be performed. Depending on the history, individual’s age and findings on examination, the physician will advise tests which include:

  • Allergy tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Throat swab (A sample is collected from the back of your throat, and the specimen is tested for infections)
  • Pulmonary function tests

Treatment of a dry cough depends on its causative factor (eg, cough caused by viral infection is self-limiting and resolves on its own within a week or two). The various measures to relieve a dry cough include:


  • Honey coats and soothes the throat and helps to relieve the irritation that triggers a dry cough
  • Drinking plenty of liquids (warm broths, tea, etc.)
  • Gargling with salt water helps a cold and sore throat with dry cough
  • Stopping certain medicines (ACE inhibitors, beta blockers) which trigger dry cough and taking alternative drugs after consulting your physician
  • Taking sips of water reduces the urge to cough
  • Cough suppressants (available as lozenges [containing an antibacterial] or liquid or linctus [cough mixture]) which suppress the urge to cough include:
    • Pholcodine
    • Dextromethorphan
    • Codeine
    • Dihydrocodeine
    • Pentoxyverine
  • Cold and flu combination medicines usually contain the following:
    • An antihistamine
    • A decongestant (to relieve a blocked or stuffy nose)
    • Paracetamol
  • Nasal sprays and inhalers for dry cough due to allergic rhinitis or post-nasal drip include:
    • Saline or corticosteroid nasal spray
    • Corticosteroid inhaler (medicine is breathed in through the mouth)
  • Reflux treatment, which is given to individuals with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, includes:
    • Treatment with medications that block the acid secretion (such as proton pump inhibitors)
    • Self-care measures include avoiding eating just before bedtime and raising the head of your bed
  1. Medicines for Dry Cough
  2. Doctors for Dry Cough
Dr. Chintan Nishar

Dr. Chintan Nishar

10 Years of Experience

Dr. K. K. Handa

Dr. K. K. Handa

21 Years of Experience

Dr. Aru Chhabra Handa

Dr. Aru Chhabra Handa

24 Years of Experience

Dr. Jitendra Patel

Dr. Jitendra Patel

22 Years of Experience


  1. American lung association. Cough Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors. Chicago, Illinois, United States
  2. NHS Inform. Cough. National health information service, Scotland. [internet].
  3. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Cough
  4. Health Link. Dry Coughs. British Columbia. [internet].
  5. Healthdirect Australia. Cough. Australian government: Department of Health

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