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A dry cough can have many causes, from allergies to viruses. Home remedies and medications may help provide relief. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding allergens or environmental irritants can also be beneficial.

A cough is a reflex action that clears your airway of irritants and mucus.

There are two types of cough: productive and nonproductive. A productive cough produces phlegm or mucus, clearing it from the lungs. A nonproductive cough, also known as a dry cough, doesn’t produce phlegm or mucus.

Many things — from allergies to acid reflux — can cause a dry cough. In some cases, there’s no obvious cause. Regardless of the cause, an ongoing dry cough can seriously impact your day-to-day life, especially if it’s worse at night.

Keep reading to learn more about the possible causes of a dry cough and ways to find relief.


Asthma is a condition in which your airways swell and become narrow. Asthma-related coughs can be both productive and nonproductive, though they’re frequently nonproductive.

Coughing is a common symptom of asthma, but it’s usually not the most prominent one. However, there is a type of asthma called cough variant asthma that includes a chronic dry cough as its main symptom.

Other symptoms of asthma can include:

Long-term asthma treatment often involves long-acting medications like inhaled corticosteroids, such as:

Short-acting medications used for the treatment of occasional asthma attacks include bronchodilator inhalers such as albuterol (Proventil, Ventoline). These can also be part of a long-term treatment plan.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a type of chronic acid reflux. It happens when stomach acid regularly flows back up into your esophagus, which connects your mouth to your stomach.

Stomach acid can irritate your esophagus and trigger your cough reflex.

Other symptoms of GERD include:

Most people find relief from GERD through a combination of lifestyle changes and over-the-counter (OTC) acid reducers such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and lansoprazole (Prevacid).

Some home remedies may also help treat acid reflux and GERD.

Postnasal drip

Postnasal drip refers to extra mucus dripping down your throat.

When you have a cold or seasonal allergies, the membranes in your nose respond by producing more mucus than usual. Unlike healthy mucus, this mucus is watery and runny, so it drips easily down the back of your throat.

Postnasal drip can tickle the nerves in the back of your throat, triggering a cough.

Other symptoms of postnasal drip include:

  • sore throat
  • the feeling of a lump in the back of the throat
  • trouble swallowing
  • runny nose
  • coughing at night

The treatment for postnasal drip will depend on what’s causing it. It’s usually the result of allergies, a bacterial infection, or a virus.

Regardless of the underlying cause, steam from a hot shower or teapot can help clear out your sinuses. A saline nasal spray or neti pot can also help flush out extra mucus.

Viral infection

When you contract one of the many viruses that cause the common cold, your short-term symptoms usually last less than a week. It’s not uncommon, however, for a cough to linger long after your other symptoms have improved.

These post-cold coughs are usually dry and can last for up to 2 months. They’re usually the result of irritation in your airway, which is often overly sensitive after a viral illness.

This type of cough is difficult to treat and often requires time and patience. Coughing only increases the irritation in your airway, so try using throat lozenges and warm liquids to soothe your throat. This may help you cough less, giving your airway a chance to heal.

Upper respiratory infection

An acute upper respiratory infection (URI) is a virus or bacteria that infects your nose, throat, pharynx, larynx, and bronchi.

In addition to the common cold, URIs include:

The common symptoms of a URI include:

  • coughing
  • runny nose
  • nasal congestion
  • sneezing

You can treat coughing caused by a URI with cough suppressants and expectorants.


When your immune system mistakes a harmless foreign substance, such as pollen, for something dangerous to your body, it attacks it. This causes allergy symptoms such as coughing.

Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, are triggered by pollen from plants. These types of allergies are common, affecting more than 19 million Americans.

Besides coughing, symptoms may include itchy or watery eyes and a runny nose.

Seasonal allergy symptoms may last as long as you are exposed to the allergen. If over-the-counter allergy medications aren’t relieving your symptoms, you should see a doctor.

Dry cough and COVID-19

One of the most common early symptoms of COVID-19 is a dry cough. This is experienced by 60 to 70 percent of people with the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

A 2020 study in China found that most people with COVID-19 developed a cough 1 day after becoming infected. The cough lasted for about 19 days.

Other common COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • headache
  • sore throat

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting tested for COVID-19 immediately if you have a persistent cough or other symptoms.

Environmental irritants

Many things in the air can irritate your airways, including smoke, pollution, dust, mold, and pollen. Chemical particles, such as sulfur dioxide or nitric oxide, can also cause concerns.

Even clean air that’s too dry or too cold can cause a dry cough for some people. If you live in a dry climate, try using a humidifier to add some moisture to the air in your home.

Shop for humidifiers.

ACE inhibitors

ACE inhibitors, such as enalapril (Vasotec) and lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), are prescription drugs that treat a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure.

One of the most common side effects of ACE inhibitors is a chronic dry cough. About 20 percent of people taking ACE inhibitors experience a dry cough.

Whooping cough

Whooping cough, which is also called pertussis, is a very contagious condition that causes a severe dry cough. It’s followed up by a high-pitched “whoop” sound when you breathe in.

It can be easily confused for a common cold in its early stages, but it eventually causes uncontrollable coughing fits.

Whooping cough used to be a common childhood disease, but now most children are vaccinated against it. Today it’s more common in children too young to have completed their vaccinations or in teens and adults whose immunity has decreased over time.

Collapsed lung

A collapsed lung, also known as a pneumothorax, happens when your lung suddenly deflates. It can happen either on its own or in response to a chest injury. It’s more common in people with underlying lung disease.

In addition to a dry cough, a collapsed lung can also cause sudden chest pain and shortness of breath.

Lung cancer

While it’s not likely, sometimes an ongoing dry cough can be a sign of lung cancer.

A cough related to lung cancer usually doesn’t go away, and it might change over time. For example, your cough might become more painful or have a different sound.

Other possible symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • coughing up blood, even a small amount
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • wheezing
  • hoarseness
  • unexplained weight loss

If your dry cough is accompanied by any of these symptoms, contact a doctor. This is especially important if you smoke or have a family history of lung cancer.

Heart failure

Heart failure happens when your heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it’s supposed to. It’s more common in people with conditions like coronary artery disease and high blood pressure, which can decrease your heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

A persistent, dry cough is one symptom of heart failure. However, it can also cause a cough that produces foamy white or pink-tinted mucus.

Other symptoms of heart failure include:

  • shortness of breath that may be sudden or severe
  • fatigue and weakness
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet
  • lack of appetite or nausea
  • abdominal swelling
  • fluid retention
  • trouble concentrating

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

The rare condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) stiffens and scars the tissues in your lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

In addition to shortness of breath, IPF may cause symptoms such as a chronic cough, weakness, and weight loss.

IPF progresses slowly. There is currently no cure, but it can be treated with medications and oxygen therapy to help with breathing and reduce lung inflammation. As a final treatment step, a lung transplant may be necessary

Dry coughs can be difficult to treat. Once your airways become overly sensitive, they’re easily irritated by coughing, creating a vicious cycle.

There are a few things you can do for relief, regardless of what’s causing your cough. Try:

  • sucking on throat lozenges to moisturize and soothe irritated throat tissue
  • taking OTC cough suppressants, such as dextromethorphan (Robitussin), to suppress your cough reflex
  • adding honey to a hot drink to soothe irritated throat tissue

You can also try these natural remedies for coughing.

To help prevent a dry cough, drink plenty of water to help keep your throat moist.

You can also try eliminating what’s triggering your dry cough as follows:

  • Environment irritants. Use an air purifier to remove allergens or a cool-mist humidifier to add moisture to the air. Vacuum frequently to get rid of dust as well as pet hair and dander.
  • Food allergies. Avoid particular food or foods that are high in histamines, such as aged cheeses, fermented or pickled vegetables, and alcohol.
  • GERD. Avoid acidic and high fat foods.

Dry coughs can be annoying, especially when they seem to drag on for weeks. If it starts to negatively affect your sleep schedule, try these tips to stop coughing at night.

If you’re not sure what’s causing your cough, work with a doctor to figure out the best course of treatment. In the meantime, a combination of home remedies and OTC medications can provide some relief.

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