Dry cough

What is a dry cough?

Both dry coughs and tickly coughs are known as non-productive coughs, as distinct from chesty coughs where mucus is produced.

A dry cough is most often the result of infection by cold and flu viruses. It can also be triggered by atmospheric pollutants (such as cigarette smoke) irritating your throat. In most of these situations, dry coughs occur because the back of your throat (or pharynx) becomes irritated or inflamed, but may also arise from deeper in the chest.
Any cough can be a nuisance and this is particularly so if sleep is disturbed. A vicious cycle can develop - if one is tired, recovery from any infection or illness can take longer.

Common causes of dry coughs

The common causes of dry coughs are as follows:

  • Viral infections we know as the common cold and flu. These coughs may occur at the start of the illness or more likely, appear towards the middle or the end of the infection, and may linger long after other symptoms have disappeared
  • Allergies can also lead to a dry cough. Hayfever, an allergy to grass and tree pollen, causes irritation to the eyes and nose and when the throat is affected, a cough results. If you are unsure about whether or not your dry cough is hayfever-related, you could try taking our quick test to find out. Sensitivity to other particles such as animal fur, known as allergic rhinitis, can also lead to the same symptom
  • Air pollutants can irritate the back of the throat causing a cough. This is the situation seen when non-smokers enter a smoky room
  • Acid reflux is now accepted as a cause of dry coughs. What happens is that the acidic contents of the stomach travels upwards to the back of the throat. Minute amounts of acid may then enter the upper respiratory tract, causing inflammation and coughing. This is more likely when one is lying down flat. Acid reflux is a prominent element of GORD or GERD (Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease).
  • asthma;
  • gastro-oesophageal reflux;
  • smoking;
  • allergic rhinitis (hay fever) due to inhaling substances you are allergic to, such as pollen, dust or pet dander;
  • post-nasal drip (the drainage of mucus secretions from the nose or sinuses down the back of the throat);
  • laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx, also known as the voice box);
  • whooping cough;
  • obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring;
  • habit cough (a cough that is only present in the daytime and not caused by illness – it most often affects school-aged children);
  • certain types of lung disease known as interstitial lung disease; or
  • a side effect from a medicine (for example, cough is a possible side effect of most ACE inhibitors – often prescribed for high blood pressure).


A persistent dry cough can cause problems, including the following complications.

  • Repeated coughing can lead to urinary incontinence in women, especially older women, pregnant women and those who have been pregnant.
  • Interrupted sleep resulting in tiredness is a common problem for people with a persistent cough.
  • Severe or uncontrollable coughing fits can sometimes cause vomiting.
  • Headaches may result from a persistent cough.

How to Treat Dry Cough Naturally

Step 1

Drink water often to add moisture to your throat. You can drink other drinks besides water if you choose, as long as they are not acidic. Acidic drinks, such as orange juice, can irritate a dry throat.

Step 2

Run a humidifier in your home or office to add moisture to the air in your environment.

Step 3

Eat a tablespoon of buckwheat honey to soothe your sore throat and reduce the frequency of coughing. A study published in the December 2007 edition of "Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine" found that buckwheat honey effectively suppressed cough symptoms in study participants. The buckwheat honey can be eaten plain, dissolved in warm water or mixed in an herbal tea. See "Warnings" section below.

Step 4

Avoid cigarette smoke, known allergens, harsh chemical odors and other harsh fumes. If you live or work in an area where pollution or toxins are prevalent, run an air purifier in your home or office to filter irritating chemicals out of the air.

Things You'll Need

  • Humidifier
  • Buckwheat honey

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