A persistent cough usually accompanies the flu or cold. When the cough is chesty and produces mucus or phlegm, a more serious issue may be the cause. Although a dry cough may be exhausting and irritating, many people do not feel it requires serious medical attention, even for the typical cough that constitutes COVID-19 symptoms.
Coughing is a protective reflex in response to irritants or inflammation and shouldn’t be ignored. A dry cough can become worse and have serious causes.
The five types of dry cough include:
A cough affecting you for a long period is a chronic cough (unlike the acute cough, which is sudden and lasts for a short time). This cough tends to worsen during the day and may lead to coughing fits. It can be persistent and painful, leading to incontinence or pulled muscles in older patients.
Non subsiding coughs can occur from various causes, including side effects of a medicine, inflammation, and allergies. Post-viral asthma or long COVID-19 infection may also cause this cough.
Some people may experience an irritating, tickling feeling in their throat, leading to a persistent cough. This may be due to inflammation from the flu or cold virus or atmospheric factors such as climate or pollution. Postnasal drip, which involves mucus dripping down from the sinuses to the back of the throat, may cause this type of cough.
This sound from this cough is similar to the woof of a pup. It can occur during the day or at night, alongside wheezing. Inflammation after the flu or cold can cause this cough, and it may cause pain.
Some people experience a persistent feeling of a lump in the through. This lump doesn’t go away even when you swallow, and coughing gives a slightly acidic taste. This cough may be due to acid reflux or GERD (a condition that causes stomach acid to rise to the oesophagus).
Wheezy cough is usually worse at night or when you wake up and occurs with a wheezing sound (a high-pitched sound similar to a whistle). The wheezing sound is due to tightening of the airways or asthma.
Many conditions can cause a dry cough. They include:
About 10% of people with asthma do not have a diagnosis, so a check-up is necessary if you’ve been experiencing any chronic coughs. Asthmatic cough often occurs with a wheezing sound because of its effect on the airways.
Inflammation in the airways causes narrowing and tightening, leaving less space for air to travel through. Although a dry, wheezy cough is a sign of asthma, it may become more serious, leading to breathing difficulty.
However, a type of asthma known as cough variant asthma (CVA) has chronic dry cough as the main symptom.
Treatments with long-term effects usually include long-acting medication such as inhaled corticosteroids. These medications include:
Common short-acting medication for treating occasional asthma attacks are bronchodilator inhalers, including albuterol (Ventoline, Proventil). These medications may be part of long-term treatment.
Allergic asthma is similar to normal asthma, but it is triggered by allergens such as pollen, pet dander, dust, or mould. The reaction to allergens inflames the airways in the lungs, leading to difficulty breathing, cough, or a full-blown asthma attack.
Cold weather, inhaling strong smells like perfumes, fumes, or smoke can also trigger this condition. Identifying your triggers can help in managing the condition.
In people with post-viral asthma, asthmatic symptoms worsen after a recent illness, a cold and flu infection, and persistent coughing. This condition may be due to the immune system’s response to an infection. Inflammation in the lungs can trigger swelling in the lungs.
Preventing post-viral asthma is important, so the doctor may recommend flu shots and other preventive measures to keep flu at bay.
People with COVID-19 may experience a cough for several weeks or months, with other accompanying symptoms including loss of stamina and breathlessness.
GERD is chronic acid reflux occurring from regular reflux of stomach acid into the oesophagus (a tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). Stomach acids irritate the oesophagus and may lead to a cough reflex. Other common GERD symptoms include:
Over-the-counter (OTC) acid reducers like lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec) and lifestyle changes may relieve GERD symptoms.
Viral infection from viruses can present short-term symptoms that last for less than one week. These symptoms include a cough, but treatment will be necessary if the cough continues after other symptoms improve.
Post-viral coughs are often dry, lasting for about two months. They occur due to an irritation in the airways. The airways are overly sensitive following an illness caused by viruses. This cough is often difficult to treat and requires patience.
Coughing increases irritation in the airways, but using warm liquids and throat lozenges can soothe the throat to reduce swelling and allow the airways to heal.
This is the extra mucus dripping down the throat. During a seasonal or cold allergy, the membrane in the nose produces more mucus. Unlike the normal mucus, mucus from the postnasal drip is runny, so it goes down easily to the back of the throat. The mucus may make the nerves at the back of the throat sensitive, causing a cough. Some other postnasal drip symptoms include:
Postnasal drip treatment often depends on its cause. In most cases, bacterial or viral infection causes allergies.
The steam from a teapot or hot shower can clear the sinuses and stop the postnasal drip. You can also use a neti pot or saline nasal spray to clear out extra mucus.
Different things can irritate the airways, such as pollen, dust, smoke, mould, and pollution. Chemical particles like nitric oxide and sulphur dioxide may also cause irritation. When clean air is too cold or dry, many people may experience a dry cough.
If you are in an area with a dry climate, using a humidifier can increase moisture in the air inside your home or office.
ACE inhibitors like Lisinopril (Zestril, Prinivil) and enalapril (Vasotec) prescribed to treat different conditions such as high blood pressure have side effects. A common side effect is a chronic dry cough.
Also called pneumothorax, a collapsed lung occurs from sudden lung deflation. This can happen without cause or as a response to a chest injury. A collapsed lung is more common in those with underlying lung disease. Other symptoms of a collapsed lung are shortness of breath and sudden, sharp pain in the chest.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a contagious condition that leads to a severe dry cough. Many people confuse whooping cough as a common cold in the early stages of the condition, but the coughing fits become uncontrollable. The cough is often followed by a high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in.
In the past, whooping cough was a common childhood disease, but nowadays most children receive vaccination. It is only common in young children who haven’t completed their vaccination or adults and teens with decreased immunity.
In some cases, a dry cough may indicate lung cancer. Cough resulting from lung cancer may not stop and may change over time. The cough may sound differently or become more painful.
Other symptoms of lung cancer are:
Contact your doctor if you experience a dry cough accompanied by these symptoms. This is particularly important if you have a family history of lung cancer or are a smoker.
Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle does not pump enough blood. This often affects people with health conditions such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease that reduce the heart’s ability to pump sufficient blood. A persistent dry cough is a heart failure symptom, but the cough may produce a pink-tinted or foamy white mucus.
Other heart failure symptoms include:
Treating dry cough is often difficult because once the airways are overly sensitive, they become easily irritated by coughing. A few things can relieve a dry cough, regardless of its cause.
If your cough is persistent and doesn’t relieve with these remedies, ensure you see our doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
If a dry cough doesn’t resolve, ensure you schedule an appointment with your doctor. They can identify the cause of the cough and give proper treatment; whether the cough results from a minor illness or after an infection, a visit to the doctor is important. Early treatment gives a better chance of successful treatment.
A chronic dry cough may result from the following serious and fatal conditions, although this rarely occurs.
If you experience any type of cough, visit Medical Express Clinic to see a doctor for the right diagnosis. You can also call 020 7499 1991 to book a GP appointment.