Dry Cough: What Is a Dry Cough? Common Causes and Home Remedies

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man and woman coughing into their elbows

A cough is a human defensive reflex that helps protect the body’s airways and lungs. Anything from fumes, dust, smoke, pollen, medication, or having a lung disease like asthma or COPD, may activate this reflex in the human body.

The throat and airways are equipped with cough receptors and a thin layer of mucus that coats and protects your airways.

When you inhale a trigger, your cough receptors recognize the intruder, which gets stuck in the mucus lining your airways. Those cough receptors then send a message up to your brain, which signals the chest muscle to take a deep breath in and out to remove the trigger.

Coughing can propel air and particles out of your lungs and throat at speeds close to 50 miles per hour, and this whole process is almost instantaneous and very effective.

An occasional cough is a normal, healthy function of your body. But a persistent cough, one that doesn’t go away, is not normal. There are normally two kinds of coughs, dry cough, and a wet cough. Let’s look at the difference between the two.

Difference Between Dry Cough and Wet Cough

The wet cough usually expels fluids and mucus out from your airways in the lungs. These fluids act as irritants in the airways, thus triggering the coughing reflex. Wet coughs sound “heavy” and “rattling” due to the process of expelling phlegm or mucus out from the lungs. Some common causes of wet cough include pneumonia, chest congestion due to cold or flu, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acute bronchitis, and asthma.

A dry cough does not bring out any phlegm or mucus from the lungs. It occurs due to the tickling effect in the throat triggering the cough reflex. These coughs are also known as “unsatisfying cough” because no mucus or phlegm is expelled out from the lungs. Sometimes the dry cough can become so hard that a person may hurt their ribs or intercostal muscles.

Common Causes of Dry Cough

Dry cough can be chronic or temporary, depending upon the causes. There are many causes of dry cough, which may include:

  • COVID-19: the infectious disease that affects the respiratory system of the body caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
  • Inflammation: The inflammation in the lungs or throat due to viral infection can trigger a dry cough.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): It is a condition in which acid leaks from the stomach back up into the esophagus or food pipe. This stomach acid irritates your esophagus and triggers the cough reflex.
  • Asthma: When your airways in the lungs swell, it becomes narrowed, which triggers the cough. This cough can be dry or wet both.
  • Postnasal Drip: It is a common occurrence when mucus secretions from the nose and sinuses drip down the back of the throat. When mucus drip into the through, it causes cough. This cough is usually wet, but sometimes it can be dry too.

Other possible causes include:

  • Smoking.
  • Tonsillitis.
  • ACE inhibitors medications.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Environmental irritants such as dust, pollution, pollen, and mold.

Home Remedies for Dry Cough

Over the counter medications or conventional medications for cough can cause drowsiness and laziness, that’s why many people prefer to go for natural methods to cure dry cough. If your symptoms are not severe, you can try the following home remedies for cough that will give you instant relief.

Ginger

Ginger is one of the most popular natural cures for dry cough. The anti-inflammatory agents present in ginger relaxes the membranes in the airways and reduces the irritation present in the throat that triggers the dry cough. Ginger is also known as a natural analgesic that can soothe the scratchy pain in a sore throat.

You can use ginger in a lot of ways. The most common way is to make ginger tea. Cut fresh ginger slices (around 20 to 40 grams) and add into the boiling water for few minutes until you smell the fresh ginger scent coming out from the fumes. Allow the water to cool and drink it lukewarm. You can add honey or lemon juice for flavors.

If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor before using the ginger remedy.

Honey

Honey is one of the oldest remedies to treat dry cough. Its antibacterial properties help in killing minor bacterial or viral infections. It not only coats the throat but also acts as a protective shield for your throat against any germs or bacteria.

You can take 1 to 2 teaspoons of raw honey either on its own or add into a cup of tea or warm water. Honey adds sugar and calories to your diet, so you must watch out for your intake.

Avoid giving honey to babies under one year old, as it can trigger infant botulism, a severe illness that can occur in infants.

honey for dry cough
Honey is considered as a common cough suppressant and as effective as dextromethorphan, an ingredient in typical over-the-counter cough medications.

Peppermint

Peppermint and its active compound called “menthol” are natural decongestants that help in reducing the urge to cough by numbing the nerve endings in the throat that become irritated by coughing. Menthol helps in thinning the mucus and reduce chest congestion, that’s why it is present in many chests rubs and cough drops.

You can either consume peppermint in the form of tea by making peppermint tea or by sucking on peppermint lozenges. For the tea, you can either buy peppermint tea bags from the store or make it at home by adding one teaspoon of dried peppermint crush into the hot boiling water. Once it is fully boiled, strain it and drink.

Capsaicin

Capsaicin is an active compound found in chili peppers. According to research, capsaicin was found to help reduce chronic and unexplained cough.

You can take capsaicin in the form of a capsule or can make a cayenne pepper tea. You can either steep cayenne pepper in the hot boiling water or can mix cayenne pepper hot sauce in the boiling water. Make sure to check first how much heat you can handle, as cayenne pepper is a type of chili peppers that are too hot.

This remedy is not recommended for children.

Salt Water

You might have heard from your mom and grandma to gargle with salt water if you have had a cough. Well, they are correct. Saltwater helps in easing the irritation and dryness in the throat, often caused by coughing a lot. It helps in relieving the sore throat and kills harmful bacteria and viruses.

Saltwater acts as a magnet in your throat and flushes out all the excess fluids and mucus present in tissues, which helps in reducing swelling and irritation.

Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Gargle at least three times in a day to relieve a sore or scratchy throat.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a widely used herb in traditional Chinese medicines and Ayurvedic medicines. This herb contains a compound called “curcumin” that is responsible for all the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial actions to treat chest congestion and chronic dry cough. Turmeric is also widely used to treat all the upper respiratory illnesses, which include asthma and bronchitis.

The best way to consume turmeric for dry cough is through turmeric milk, also known as “golden milk.” Add ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder in the milk and boil it. Allow it to cool and then drink hot milk. If you are allergic to dairy products, you can also make a warm turmeric tea with black peppers. Just add one teaspoon of turmeric powder and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper in the water and boil It. Strain the tea if needed and drink it lukewarm. Turmeric, when boiled with black peppers, allows full absorption of curcumin in the bloodstream when you drink the hot turmeric tea.

Turmeric can help reduce chronic dry cough
Turmeric is best known for its antibacterial and antiseptic properties that clear all respiratory infections and boosts the immunity.

When to See the Doctor

Dry coughs are often temporary, but sometimes it can become chronic that raises concerns. A chronic dry cough may be a symptom of illnesses like asthma, GERD, or lung cancer.

Dry coughs usually stop when you try any of the above remedies or sometimes on their own, but if you experience certain symptoms, then you should consult the doctor immediately. These symptoms include:

  • If the cough converts into a wet cough and starts producing thick, greenish-yellow phlegm.
  • When you start experiencing chest pain with wheezing.
  • When you are having trouble swallowing food and develops a feeling of something being stuck in the throat.
  • If you have shortness of breath and pressure on the chest.

If your cough persists for more than three weeks even after trying the home remedies, consult your doctor right away.