Dry coughs are coughs that do not produce phlegm or mucus. A dry cough usually feels like something is irritating or tickling the back of your throat. A constant, dry cough may be a symptom of several different medical conditions. A visit to your doctor to get checked for triggers and receive treatment is advised by the experts at the Cleveland Clinic, as this type of cough is not likely to go away on its own or respond to common treatments, such as cough syrup 1.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Asthma may trigger a constant, dry cough. In this case, your chest may feel tight, and you may wheeze. According to "The Asthma Educator's Handbook," a dry cough related to asthma is usually caused by chemicals that are released along the bronchial wall during an attack. They can gather around the nerve endings that stimulate the cough reflex; this forces the dry coughing to begin and continue until you treat the attack with medication. Often, this constant, dry cough is the symptom that leads to an asthma diagnosis in adults, so it is especially important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect this is the case.
Post-nasal drip, which can be caused by allergies, nasal polyps or chronic sinusitis, can cause a dry cough. In fact, according to the National Lung Health Education Program, it's thought to be one of the most common triggers of constant, dry coughs 3. If you have post-nasal drip, you may feel a tickle or liquid drainage in the back of your throat that isn't relieved by coughing. The reason the cough is dry, even though the cause is liquid in your throat, is that often the drainage is too thick to clear by coughing.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as GERD, is likely the trigger of your constant, dry cough if it occurs at night, several hours after you go to sleep. If you have GERD, reclining flat on your back can cause your stomach acid to creep up into your esophagus. This irritates your throat and causes you to wake up coughing throughout the night. Diagnosing GERD may be difficult, because those who suffer from a constant cough often don't have any of the corresponding symptoms, such as heartburn. Once your doctor diagnoses you with GERD, he can prescribe aggressive anti-reflux medication and therapy that should halt the cough.
- Cleveland Clinic: Cough
- "The Asthma Educator's Handbook"; Christopher H. Fanta, Elisabeth S. Stieb, Elaine L. Carter and Kenan E. Haver; 2007
- National Lung Health Education Program: Chronic Cough
- The Medical Consumer's Advocate: A Dry Cough at Night
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