What’s the cure for a dry cough? First we should define a dry cough. A “dry cough” does not produce sputum, or phlegm coughed up from the chest. Beyond that, a dry cough may be caused by a number of conditions.
Probably the most common cause of a so-called dry cough is a tickle in the throat. Strangely enough, this is often due to drainage of mucus (or phlegm) down the back of the throat in association with a cold or sinus infection. Though there may not be enough drainage to cough it out, drying up the drainage with an antihistamine may be the answer. This is not actually a “cure” but rather a treatment. Over-the-counter antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine, and diphenhydramine.
If you have had symptoms for over a week, or if you’re getting worse, or if you keep blowing out thick, yellow mucus (snot) from your nose, you may benefit from an antibiotic.
A dry cough can also be a symptom of influenza, other viruses, allergies, asthma, bronchitis, COPD, pleurisy, pneumonia, or acid reflux disease (GERD). If you seem to have a respiratory flu or other viral infection, a cough suppressant containing dextromethorphan may help. If your chest is tight or wheezy from asthma, bronchitis, or COPD a prescription inhaler may help. (You may also benefit from an antibiotic, cough suppressant, or antihistamine.) If you have pneumonia or pleurisy, you should be asking your doctor about your cough.
If you seem to be allergic to trees, grass, weeds, animals, mold, dust, etc., a dry cough may respond to an antihistamine, a nasal inhaler such as cromolyn sodium (OTC) or prescription steroid spray, or montelukast (prescription). If you have acid reflux, an OTC acid reducer such as famotidine, ranitidine, omeprazole, or lansoprazole may help. Notice I didn’t say the word “cure.” Lots of things can improve a cough, but “cures” are usually the result of a body’s own healing.
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD