What Causes a Dry Cough?
Have you had a dry cough nagging away at you for the past few weeks? At first, we attribute it to the flu or just a cough that will ‘go away soon’. As time goes on, we start to ignore it and actually grow accustomed to the cough but this is incredibly dangerous for a number of reasons. Today, we’re going to uncover these reasons and see what your cough could mean (and why you should seek medical attention).
What Is a Dry Cough?
In case you were unaware, a dry cough is any type of cough that produces no mucus or phlegm. Otherwise known as a ‘non-productive’ cough, they quickly become irritating and cause frustration. Often, they get worse at night as you lie down and this prevents a good nights’ sleep and leads to further issues – trouble concentrating at work, constant daytime fatigue, and even impacts on your personal and professional relationships.
Normal Duration of a Cough
With this in mind, how long does a “typical” cough actually last? According to most experts, a cold or flu-related cough should disappear within two weeks. Though some will be shorter and some may extend to three weeks, this is the average duration a cough lasts.
If the cough lasts for more than eight weeks, this is treated as a chronic cough and for children this lasts around four weeks. If you’ve had a dry cough that has lasted for more than eight weeks, now is the time to see the doctor – especially if it’s affecting work/school, sleep, personal life, or produces bloody phlegm.
When you first visit the doctor, they’ll look into your medical history before beginning a medical examination. In this testing phase, they may take an x-ray as well as a computerized tomography (CT) scan. With a CT scan, they’ll be able to see the condition of your lungs as well as any issues that would produce a cough or issues within the sinus cavities. After this, they could also go for lung function tests, scope tests, and lab tests.
Possible diagnoses could include the following, some of which produce a dry cough:
- Asthma – First and foremost, a cough relating to asthma may come as the seasons change or after an upper respiratory tract infection. With asthma, it means there is an issue within the lungs and this leads to regular coughs, difficulty breathing, and many other side-effects. If this is the cause, you may be given an inhaler to aid with your breathing, help your lungs, and clear up the cough.
- Postnasal Drip – As the nose produces excess amounts of mucus, it can actually drip down into the throat and trigger the cough reflex. Also known as upper airway cough syndrome (UACS), it can continue for some time without treatment.
- Infections – After a bad case of the flu or an infection in the upper respiratory tract, whooping cough can form which is a bacterial infection within the airways and lungs.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – With this issue, stomach acid can back up into the esophagus (which connects your throat and stomach). This can cause both a wet and dry cough, which causes GERD, causing further coughing, etc.
- Bronchitis – Finally, this inflammation within the bronchial tubes (airways) can cause dry coughing. Although most sufferers are or were heavy smokers, it can occur in anyone and it falls into the spectrum for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Other causes – Ultimately, these are the most common underlying problems for a dry cough but you could also be experiencing a side-effect from blood pressure drugs, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, laryngopharyngeal reflux, and sarcoidosis.
Ultimately, the treatment required will depend entirely on the issue found. For example, antihistamines and decongestants are common for allergies and postnasal drip while antibiotics will be the best solution for infections. Furthermore, acid blockers would be advised for acid reflux although surgery is an option for the more severe cases.
Elsewhere, cough suppressants might be issued if the doctor cannot find the reason for the cough. If the cough is preventing you from sleeping and severely affecting your life, this solution should see you through until test results are returned and the doctor can work towards a proper treatment to get you back on your feet.
If you have a dry cough that doesn’t seem to be disappearing or if you’re coughing up blood, get in contact with your doctor today and you can have the problem treated rather than living with a potentially dangerous health condition.