Dry cough: its causes and solutions to overcome it
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Dry cough: its causes and solutions to overcome it

How is dry cough characterized?

Dry cough is a very common reason for medical consultation. It is not a disease, but a symptom, which is banal in itself but can have multiple causes.

Coughing is a sudden and forced air exhalation reflex, which should make it possible to “clean” the respiratory tract. Unlike the so-called wet cough, the dry cough does not produce sputum (it is non-productive). This is most often an irritating cough.

The cough may be isolated or accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, chest pain, etc. In addition, it happens that the dry cough then becomes oily, after a few days, as in the case of bronchitis for example.

A cough is never normal: it is not necessarily serious, of course, but it must be the subject of a medical consultation, especially if it becomes chronic, that is to say if it persists for more than 3 weeks. In this case, an X-ray of the lungs and a medical examination are necessary.

What causes a dry cough?

A dry cough can be caused by many pathologies.

Most often, it occurs in the context of a “cold” or respiratory infection and disappears spontaneously within a few days. It is most often a virus that is involved, resulting in a cough associated with nasopharyngitis, laryngitis, tracheitis, bronchitis or sinusitis, etc.

Chronic cough (more than 3 weeks) is more concerning. The doctor will be interested in its age and the circumstances of occurrence to try to understand the cause:

  • Is the cough mostly nocturnal?
  • Does it occur after exercise?
  • is the patient a smoker?
  • Is cough triggered by exposure to an allergen (cat, pollen, etc.)?
  • Is there an impact on the general condition (insomnia, fatigue, etc.)?

Most often, a chest X-ray will need to be performed.

Chronic cough can have many causes. Among the most frequent:

  • Posterior nasal discharge or posterior pharyngeal discharge: the cough is mostly early, and is accompanied by discomfort in the throat and a runny nose. The causes can be chronic sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, cough of viral irritation, etc.;
  • “dragging” cough after a seasonal respiratory infection;
  • asthma: coughing is often triggered by exertion, breathing can be wheezing;
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD (responsible for 20% of chronic coughs): chronic cough may be the only symptom;
  • irritation (presence of a foreign body, exposure to pollution or irritants, etc.);
  • bronchial cancer
  • Heart failure;
  • Pertussis (characteristic coughing fits).

Many medications can also cause a cough, often dry, called an iatrogenic cough or medicated cough. Among the drugs most often incriminated:

  • ACE inhibitors;
  • beta-blockers;
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs/aspirin;
  • contraceptives in women smokers over 35 years of age.

What are the consequences of dry cough?

Coughing can significantly impair the quality of life, especially when it is nocturnal, causing insomnia. In addition, coughing irritates the respiratory voice, which can make coughing worse. This vicious cycle is often responsible for persistent coughs, especially after a cold or seasonal respiratory infection.

It is therefore important not to leave a cough “lying around”, even if it seems banal.

In addition, certain signs of severity can accompany dry cough and should lead to consulting a doctor as soon as possible:

  • alteration of the general condition;
  • difficulty breathing, feeling of oppression;
  • presence of blood in sputum;
  • appearance or modification of cough in a smoker.

What are the solutions in case of dry cough?

Cough is not a disease, but a symptom. Although some medications can suppress or reduce dry cough (cough suppressants), it is important to know the cause because these medications are not treatments.

In general, the use of over-the-counter cough suppressants is therefore not advised and should be prohibited if it is a persistent cough unless otherwise advised by a doctor.

When the dry cough is very painful and disrupts sleep, and/or no cause is identified (irritative cough), the doctor may decide to prescribe an antitussive (there are several kinds: opiate or not, antihistamine or not, etc.).

In other cases, treatment varies depending on the causes. Asthma, for example, can be controlled with background treatments, with treatments to be taken as needed in the event of an attack.

GERD also benefits from a variety of effective medications, from simple “gastric dressings” to prescription drugs such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

In the case of allergies, desensitization treatments can sometimes be considered.

Image Credit: Image by jcomp on Freepik

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