What To Do About A Persistent Dry Cough

Having a persistent dry cough is not only embarrassing, but over time is also irritating to the throat. This is a non-productive cough, in that it is without phlegm or any discharges. Hence the name “dry cough”. It can persist for months even to years in severe cases.  Even if cured, it can recur again and again.


What can cause a Persistent Dry Cough?

In order to cure persistent cough, we have to target its roots, which are the causative factors in developing it. These causes are the following:

  • Weak immune system – Cancer, Diabetes and other diseases weaken the immune system. When the body’s defense mechanism is down, the chance for acquiring diseases is higher. Therapies and other treatments can also suppress the immune system (such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy because they not only target the cancer cells, but also the healthy ones).
  • Diet – Apart from therapies, poor eating habits will also put the person at risk for acquiring dry cough. Foods rich in fat, salt and sugar will weaken the immune system as well as provide toxins in the body.
  • Other medical conditions – lung problems like asthma, tuberculosis, and sinusitis can all cause persistent dry cough. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), a disease of the gastrointestinal system can cause persistent dry cough as well.  This is a condition where the acid of the stomach goes up the esophagus and the throat that irritates it.
  • Environmental factors – dirty living conditions such as crowded areas and poor ventilation will make the people living there spread and acquire different diseases. Living in a busy city has a higher risk for developing persistent dry cough than those who are living in the mountains.
  • Lifestyle – bad habits like smoking, alcoholism and drug abuse irritates the nasal passages and can cause persistent dry cough. They contain substances that are harmful to the body.
  • Allergies – dust, feathers, hay and smoke can irritate the airways and will create an allergic reaction such as sneezing, coughing and difficulty of breathing. Certain foods and medications also cause allergic reaction.



Symptoms With The Problem

The signs and symptoms of persistent dry cough are the following:

  • Coughing, of course – coughing in this condition is non-productive (no phlegm or discharges). Throat can be very itchy, painful and red. The tonsils can also swell. When the air passages are blocked, there can be difficulty of breathing.
  • Due to infection, fever may be present. Pain in the throat, abdomen and the chest can also be noted. Due to persistent coughing, the small veins in the eyes and cheeks may rupture (burst) and create red marks in them.
  • Weight loss – due to lack of appetite, weight loss can be evident. Persistent dry cough can alter the taste buds and swallowing food may be painful.
  • Fatigue – due to constant coughing, and sensation of pain, the person can be exhausted. Due to this, activities of daily living may be interrupted.


Tests that may be required

Diagnostic tests are ordered by the doctor for assessment purposes. This is also performed to determine the cause of persistent dry cough. In knowing the cause, the doctor will help decide in medication prescription:

Physical examination – vital signs (like blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate, breathing rate and pan scale) are assessed. This is to check for any deviances from the normal range. Weight is monitored to check for any weight loss. The mouth and nose is examined to check for redness and other growths. The breathing pattern is assessed by listening to the chest with the use of a stethoscope (listening device). This is performed to check for the breath sounds whether it is normal or not (such as wheezes and crackles that are indicative of blockage).

Chest X-ray – provides image of the lungs. Fluid accumulation and growths in the lungs and other respiratory organs will be shown.

CT Scan (Computerized Tomography) – provides a detailed image by projecting horizontal and vertical slices of the organ. In a case of growth and other abnormalities present, CT Scan will provide the exact location.

Culture and Sensitivity – a sterile swab will be wiped in the throat and the saliva will be obtained as specimens. These will be sent in the laboratory where it will be examined to determine the virus causing the persistent dry cough. The virus causing it will be checked on what medicines it reacts to. Therefore, different medicines will be tested with this virus for their strength and effectiveness. This is the solution to stop persistent dry cough.

Allergy test – done by the physician or health care provider to determine allergy in food and medicines and how the body reacts to it. Allergic reactions to food and/or medicines are noted in order to avoid them in the future. A card is also made wherein all the allergies are written down. This card contains the patient’s vital information such as name, contact person, underlying diseases, medicines taken, and allergies that will aid doctors in the future in providing interventions for the patient.


Home remedies for persistent dry cough:

  • Warm fluids like soup and warm water will reduce the itchiness and reduce pain in the throat as well.
  • Homemade mouthwash – prepared by mixing 1-2 tbsp of salt in hot cup of water. This is use as a gargle to kill bacteria present in the mouth.
  • Sufficient rest and sleep – for adults, 8 hours of sleep a night is enough to energize the body. For toddlers and teenagers, 10 hours is adequate. This will give body time to repair and sleep strengthens the body, making one feel less exhausted. 10 – 30 minute naps is also recommended.
  • Deep breathing exercises – relaxes and provides good lung expansion while taking in lots of oxygen.
  • Proper diet – means a balanced meal based on the Food Guide for the body to receive all the nutrients. Proper food also means increasing water and fluid intake. More than 8 glasses a day is preferred. This is to hydrate the body and to soothe the throat due to the discomfort brought about by dry cough.
  • Clean environment – clean your surroundings to remove dust, dirt and smoke. Always wear proper protective equipment like mask and gloves.
  • Lifestyle modification – stop smoking and quit other bad habits like alcoholism and drug abuse. The chemicals in these items are deadly for the body. They kill the normal healthy cells we have that eventually through time will develop cancer.
  • Hygienic practices – bathe daily and change clothes regularly. Make hand washing a habit before and after meals, after bathroom use. Always carry a hand sanitizer in your bag to clean hands. This is to avoid spread of infection. When sneezing or coughing, use tissue paper or handkerchief. Wear a mask in public to avoid infecting others.
  • Steam – this is done by preparing a hot water in a tub or pan. Place your head above the pan. Cover your head and back with towel or blanket so the steam is locked in and does not go out. Inhaling steam opens the air passages and creates a relaxing and better breathing.


Medical Treatment

Here are some of the main treatment options to help sort the problem:

  • Antibiotics – in the diagnostic test culture and sensitivity, the organism (that caused persistent cough) is determined, including the medicines that will kill it and the medicines that will not. Therefore, culture and sensitivity provides detailed information to the doctor on what antibiotics to give. Antibiotics are prescribed to stop the growth and multiplication of the organism.
  • Antitussive – a kind of medicine prescribed by the doctor to stop coughing.
  • Pain killers and Antipyretics – usually, antipyretics are mixed with a substance that decreases pain levels. This is prescribed to reduce inflammation and lower down the body temperature. However, some patients require a different kind of pain killers. Therefore apart from antipyretics, doctors order a separate medicine specifically for pain.
  • Antibacterial mouthwash – readily available in the pharmacy or grocery store. This is gargled 30 seconds to 1 minute after brushing teeth. Indicated to be used three times a day or after meals, and may be increased to 5 times a day when necessary.
  • Lozenges – contain antitussive properties that stop irritating cough. Some lozenges contain a numbing substance that helps in reducing pain in the throat and reduce the coughing reflex.


Medications and other interventions differ on a case to case basis. The prescription for your friend might not be the same as yours or that of a child to a pregnant woman.So never self-prescribe. Do follow the tips on home remedies, but always seek personal advice from your own doctor if you have a persistent dry cough that lasts more than a few weeks.