Reasons for Dry Cough

Written by cindi pearce
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Reasons for Dry Cough
A dry cough can be aggravating. (BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

When an individual has a wet cough, the cough is considered fruitful or productive. This means that he coughs up phlegm or sputum. When a person has a dry cough, it is not productive because nothing comes up. The reason coughing occurs is because it is a protective reflex that helps people and animals remove excessive secretions or foreign bodies from their respiratory track. The coughing reflex occurs in the larynx and the upper airways. You may find that you also cough when a doctor puts an instrument in your ear because the oesophagus has been irritated by this. The type of cough you are experiencing depends on what is causing it.

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A dry cough sounds like a hack. On the flip side, a wet cough sounds wet because mucus and secretions are present in the windpipe and lungs. Wet coughing is productive because you cough up the fluid that is in the lower respiratory tract and that you need to get out. When you go to bed at night or are in a hot room, a dry cough can get even worse. A dry cough may be an indicator of an infection in the upper respiratory tract. You could have the flu or a cold. When an individual's throat has been aggravated by pollutants such as dust or smoke this can result in a dry cough. Sometimes you will experience an annoying tickle in your throat when you have a dry cough.


A dry hacking cough can be caused by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the cause of which is uncertain. When idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis occurs, scar tissue develops in the lungs, and the lung tissue becomes dense and inflexible and is unable to transfer oxygen to the bloodstream. When scar tissue develops, this is referred to as fibrosis. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis may be the result of environment factors or exposure to elements while on the job. It may be the result of a non-standard fibrotic and inflammatory response by the person's body or by genetic influences.

Whooping Cough and Croup

When a child or adult is afflicted with pertussis, which is commonly called whooping cough, this results in a dry, hacking cough. Whooping cough and croup are both infections that target children. However, they are not the same thing even though the terms are used interchangeably. Croup sounds like the bark made by a seal, whereas whooping cough is high pitched and the patient gasps. Croup is the result of a viral infection that inflames the windpipe tissue, making the windpipe narrow. This causes the barking, tight cough. Whooping cough makes a person cough incessantly until his lungs have been emptied, at which time he inhales and gasps or makes the whooping sound. Both are caused by infections. However, croup is a viral infection, and whooping cough is the result of the bacteria called pertussis.

Other Considerations

A dry cough can be caused by inflammation of the lower respiratory tract, resulting in bronchiolitis or by pneumonia, which is a condition where the lung tissues become inflamed, or as a result of irritation to the small airways in the lungs.

People suffering from asthma can experience a dry cough. When an individual has asthma, this causes his airways to fill with mucus. The airways become irritated, inflamed and will tighten.


Certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors, blood pressure medicine and beta blockers, can cause a dry cough.


When you have a dry cough, a cough suppressant may help suppress the cough. When you have a wet cough, take an expectorant. Children under the age of 6 should not take over-the-counter cough suppressants.

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