A dry cough can be quite infuriating, especially when it interferes with work or sleep. The worst part is that it may seem to occur without a cause and can be quite persistent. If you are one of the many people tormented by a dry cough, we have some simple remedies that will combat this problem efficiently. However, it is important to offer you a complete picture of this condition first.
- What is a dry cough?
- Causes of a dry cough
- Symptoms of a dry cough
- How long does it last?
- How is a dry cough distinguished from other types of cough?
- When to seek medical help?
- Medications for a dry cough
- Natural treatments for a dry cough
- Method 1: Honey
- Method 2: Ginger
- Method 3: Thyme
- Method 4: Onion (DIY Cough Syrup)
- Method 5: Basil
- Method 6: Apple Cider Vinegar
- Tips to keep in mind
What is a dry cough?
A cough is the body’s natural response to irritants present in the air passageway. Coughing pushes these irritants out, due to the pressure generated. This type of a cough is referred to as productive cough which is usually accompanied by mucus. A dry cough, on the other hand, is referred to as a non-productive cough and is usually indicative of a more complex underlying condition. (1)
Causes of a dry cough
There are several causes of a dry cough, the most common being cold or allergy. The following are the other causes: (2)
- Asthma: A dry cough is the main symptom of a type of asthma called cough variant asthma. In this case, the dry cough is accompanied by shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness.
- Gastrointestinal problems: Acid reflux may irritate your esophagus, resulting in coughing, throat irritation, and heartburn. Digestive problems also accompany it. If you suffer from this problem, you should have an alkaline diet including fresh fruits and vegetables. Hot and spicy food should be avoided.
- Postnasal drip: This refers to a condition in which excess nasal mucus seeps back into your throat commonly occurring during a common cold. Soreness, itchy throat and mild fever may also occur along with a dry cough.
- Environmental pollution: Air pollution is often a trigger for a dry cough. You may develop an allergy to substances present in the environment such as animal dander, mold, or pollen. In this case, it is essential for you to identify this substance and take necessary precautions when exposed to the allergen. Dryness in the air can also lead to coughing. Hence, purchasing a humidifier can be helpful too.
- Smoking: Smoking can irritate the air passage and the deposition of particles, both of which trigger a dry cough. If you are a smoker and have a persistent dry cough, throat pain, and unexplained weight loss, it is advisable to visit your doctor.
- Lung collapse: In some serious cases, dry cough or coughing bouts may be the result of lung collapse. Your chances of getting this increases if you already have a pre-existing lung disease.
- Stress response: Your dry cough can also be psychosomatic; it can be your body’s way of responding to stress or anxiety. If you notice that your cough worsens during stressful conditions, you may want to consult a psychologist.
- Sarcoidosis: This is a condition in which the body’s immune system becomes overactive and starts attacking the body, including the lungs, resulting in damage, which triggers a coughing reflex.
Symptoms of a dry cough
A dry cough may be accompanied by a number of symptoms. Most of them are also the symptoms associated with a common cold, other bacterial or viral infection.(2) The following are the common symptoms of a dry cough:
- A sore throat or itchiness in the throat, which may also be accompanied by pain and a stinging feeling in the throat.
- A runny nose
- Hoarse voice or changes in the tone of the voice
- Foul taste in mouth, resulting in not liking to eat
- Tiredness and lethargy, which may be a symptom of a viral infection or due to the inability to get proper sleep because of repeated coughing
- A headache or body ache, which is likely to be a symptom of viral infection
How long does it last?
A dry cough can last for about a week or two. If it lasts longer than that, it is referred to as acute cough. A cough lasting for more than 8 weeks comes under the category of a chronic cough. However, if your dry cough lasts for more than a week, it is advised to visit a doctor and get yourself tested for a respiratory condition requiring medical attention.(3)
How is a dry cough distinguished from other types of cough?
Not all types of cough are the same. It is quite normal for you to get confused between different types of cough and mistake one for another. Here are a few easy ways to distinguish between different types of cough:
- Croup cough: A croup cough, or a barking cough as it is commonly known, often occurs in children. It is caused by swelling in the trachea, and its most distinguishing feature is the loud bark-like sound.
- Whooping cough: An easy way to differentiate between dry cough and whooping cough is that whooping cough progressively deteriorates, and you may experience several bouts of coughing, lasting for a few minutes. This is especially noticeable at night.
- Pneumonia: This starts with a dry cough, but gradually mucus appears which is usually yellow or green. It may be accompanied by fever and chills, which are not experienced with a simple dry cough.
When to seek medical help?
A dry cough can be severe when it goes on for too long or is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- There is blood in your cough. This can be because of a mild trauma in your esophagus or due to some sort of obstruction. Either way, it is advisable to consult your physician.
- Fever or chills accompany your dry cough. This may be a reliable indicator of an infection.
- You experience sudden or unexplained weight loss.
- Your cough increases during the night. This may interfere greatly with your sleep.
- If a dry cough is accompanied by chest pains or shortness of breath, it may happen if you are suffering from asthma or wheezing.
- You feel like you are choking on something or feel a lump while swallowing. This may or may not be accompanied by pain.
- A sore throat is accompanied by pain in the ears.
- A cough is accompanied by a rash or any other form of allergy.
Medications for a dry cough
There are multiple medications that are recommended for a dry cough. Cough suppressants which may be in the form of pills or liquid are generally prescribed to provide immediate relief. In the longer run, antihistamines or decongestants may be prescribed. This is mainly to treat the underlying allergy or infection.(3)
There is a possibility that after consuming these medications, you feel sleepy or sluggish. It is therefore not advisable to operate heavy machinery or drive after consuming these medicines.
Natural treatments for a dry cough
Keeping in mind the frequency of a dry cough, it is a relief that there are a number of home remedies that you can use to cure it. These are made from simple materials and help you to avoid the side effects of medicines.
Method 1: Honey
Honey may help to stop a dry cough because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It repairs mild trauma in the esophagus and has an overall soothing effect. It has antimicrobial properties against infection, decreases mucus production, and is good for overall health. It can be taken in its raw form, or you can add it to water, milk, or herbal tea. (4) (5)
Single-Step Method: Consume a spoonful of honey
- Consume 2 teaspoons of honey twice a day.
- Alternatively, you can add 2 teaspoons of honey to warm water or herbal tea and sip on it.
Method 2: Ginger
Ginger, like honey, is hailed for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger eases your dry and itchy throat and reduces inflammation and pain.(6) Mixing honey with it would make the concoction more potent and would also counter the taste of ginger, which might be unpleasant for some.
Things you will need:
- Ginger - 1 to 2 inches
- Honey - 1 teaspoon
- Water - 2 cups
Step 1. Add ginger to boiling water
- Pour water in a saucepan and add ginger to it.
- Bring it to a boil and simmer for a few minutes.
- Turn the heat off and strain the tea.
Step 2. Add honey to ginger tea
- Add honey to the tea and drink it while it is warm.
- Sip on this tea twice a day.
Method 3: Thyme
Thyme promotes the secretion of saliva and helps cure dryness in the throat. Its bronchodilator effects help open up airways for better air exchange. It is also known to have antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties, which combat the effects of respiratory illness. It also helps remove mucus and cough deposition from your throat. It can be used in its dry form or with water.(7) (8)
Things you will need:
- Thyme - 1 teaspoon
- Water (hot) - 1 cup
Single-Step Method: Soak the thyme in boiling water, strain and drink
- Put crushed thyme leaves into a glass of boiling water.
- Let it steep for about 15 minutes.
- Strain the water into a cup and drink it.
Method 4: Onion (DIY Cough Syrup)
Onions help in relieving cough by acting as an antagonist to compounds that trigger coughing. It also has antibacterial properties and is considered to be a natural antibiotic. You can use this homemade cough syrup as a remedy for a dry cough. All ingredients used in this syrup help in relieving pain and soothing the throat while boosting the immune system.(9)
Things you will need:
- Onion, diced – 1 large
- Raw honey – ⅔ cup
- Cloves – 10 pieces
- Ginger – 1-inch piece
- Lemon juice – ½
Step 1. Combine honey, onion, ginger, and cloves in a saucepan
- Pour the honey into a saucepan over low heat.
- Add the diced onion to it.
- Put the ginger and the cloves into the mixture.
Step 2. Add lemon juice and let it simmer for 20 minutes
- Squeeze half a lemon into the onion-honey-clove mixture.
- Cover the saucepan and let it simmer on low flame, for around 20 minutes.
- After that, remove the heat source, and allow the mixture to cool down.
Step 3. Strain the syrup and store
- Strain the mixture into a container and allow it to cool down.
- Once it has reached room temperature, transfer the syrup to an airtight jar.
- Consume 1 teaspoon every 2 to 3 hours to reduce coughing.
- You can store this syrup in the refrigerator for about one month.
Method 5: Basil
Basil helps soothe the throat and boost the immune system. It also helps fight bacteria and aid in the secretion of saliva, which helps cure dry throat. You can chew on basil leaves or have it in the form of a syrup. Adding sugar to it helps counter the bitter taste, especially when taken in the form of a juice.(10) (11)
Things you will need:
- Basil juice - 2 tablespoon
- Sugar - ½ teaspoon
Single-Step Method: Mix the basil juice and sugar
- Add the sugar to the basil juice.
- Mix the two well, using a wooden spoon.
- Consume the mixture periodically.
Method 6: Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has antimicrobial properties, which means that it helps kill infection-causing microorganisms. Its potency increases when it is taken with honey and cayenne pepper because both ingredients fight bacteria and relieve pain.(12) (13)
Things you will need:
- Apple cider vinegar - 1 tablespoon
- Water - 3 tablespoons
- Ginger powder - ½teaspoon
- Cayenne pepper - ½ teaspoon
- Honey - 1 tablespoon
Step 1. Mix the ingredients in a bowl
- Pour the apple cider vinegar in a container with water.
- Add ginger powder, honey, and cayenne pepper to it
Step 2. Mix the ingredients
- Stir the ingredients using a wooden spoon.
- Once mixed properly, consume the mixture periodically.
Tips to keep in mind
- Stay hydrated by increasing your water and other fluid intakes. The water that you consume should be at room temperature or slightly warm. Having very cold water may increase a cough.
- Purchase an air purifier or a humidifier to help get rid of a dry cough.
- Do not smoke or inhale a lot of smoke. If you are already in the habit, make efforts to quit smoking completely or at least cut back on how often.
- Do not have very spicy food, as that may cause acid reflux.
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- Michigan Medicine. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2174009. Published May 24, 2015.
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- Jamshidi N, Cohen MM. The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5376420/. Published March 16, 2017.
- Johnston CS, Gaas CA. Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect. Medscape General Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1785201/. Published May 30, 2006.
- Millen BKM. Home Remedy for a Cough. The University of Pittsburgh. https://www.pitt.edu/~cjm6/sp99cough.html. Published 1999.