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What are the Most Common Causes of a Dry Chronic Cough?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A dry chronic cough can be caused by a range of things, from lung disease to medications. A persistent cough should be evaluated, as it may be a sign of a medical problem, in addition to being irritating for the patient. When going to a doctor for a chronic cough, as much information as possible about the cough should be provided. If there is a period of the day when coughing seems to happen more often or if a patient has a recent history of disease, these can provide important diagnostic clues.

A common culprit is lung disease or chronic inflammation. Asthma, smoking, and numerous respiratory conditions are all linked with a dry chronic cough. In addition, patients can develop a cough with an infection, or a condition called a post-infectious cough, where the infection is over and the patient is better, but coughing persists. The coughing can irritate the throat and become self perpetuating, as the irritation leads to coughing to clear the throat, followed by more irritation, and so forth.

Certain medications, particularly angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors used to treat high blood pressure, can cause a chronic cough. Changing or discontinuing medication may resolve the issue and make the patient feel more comfortable. In addition, this type of cough is linked with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Sometimes, the cough is present without the heartburn feeling people associated with acid reflux, and it may be the most obvious clinical sign of a problem.

Moving to a dry climate can cause a person to develop a dry chronic cough. While the body adjusts to the change, coughing can be a problem, especially if the area is dusty. Using a humidifier can help with the coughing, in addition to easing symptoms of dry skin. Heat is not necessarily a factor; hot dry climates like the desert are as likely to cause coughing as cold dry climates like those seen at extreme latitudes. People who keep coughing for several weeks may want to see a doctor to determine if there is another cause.

Treatments for a chronic cough can include taking or changing medications, quitting smoking, using humidifiers for climate control, and things like lozenges to address throat irritation. Even if patients are not bothered by a cough, they should see a doctor, as it may be the only noticeable symptom of a more serious problem. Receiving treatment for the cough can prevent future complications and keep patients more comfortable.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Feb 04, 2013

@Oceana – This is especially true if you cough is caused by allergies. I used to live in a house with two cats, but my constantly runny nose and dry cough wouldn't allow that for very long.

The cats belonged to my roommate, so I put up with them. It got to the point where I just felt sick and tired all the time because of my symptoms, though, and I had to move out.

By Oceana — On Feb 04, 2013

Sometimes the best remedies for dry cough involve removing yourself from an irritating environment. I had a dry cough for years at work because the place was so full of dirt and dust, but a few months after I changed jobs, the cough subsided a lot.

I also remember how much I used to cough when I would go out with my friends who smoked. I didn't smoke, but just breathing in their secondhand smoke irritated my lungs so much that I coughed the entire time I was around them.

By orangey03 — On Feb 03, 2013

I had bronchitis last year, and it started out with a persistent dry cough. In a few days, it turned into a productive cough, and I kept coughing up phlegm for a couple of weeks.

It was brutal! I was so tired and achy from all the coughing.

In a strange way, though, I was relieved when the dry cough changed into a productive one. At least I was getting something out of my lungs, and I didn't feel like all that coughing was in vain.

I think the most frustrating thing about a dry cough is that it doesn't seem to do any good. You just keep coughing and nothing results from it.

By seag47 — On Feb 02, 2013

Well, it seems that moving to the desert is not a cough remedy, after all! I've struggled with allergies for years, and several people have told me that if I moved to Arizona, I wouldn't have any more troubles. Dry air irritates me just as much as humid air, so even though the problem would be slightly different, it would still be a form of sinus irritation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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