Coughing is a reflex action designed to clear the body's airways from irritants, such as dust or smoke. Fortunately, they are rarely related to anything serious.
A dry cough is typically characterised as producing little to no mucus or phlegm. This type of cough is known as non-productive, and is distinctly different from a chesty cough, where mucus or phlegm is produced.
Dry coughs are usually the result of an infection from the cold or flu virus. They can also result from exposure to atmospheric irritants, such as pollution, cigarette smoke or allergens. The most common causes of dry coughs are outlined below:
- Viral infections, such as the common cold or flu. Dry coughs are more likely to occur towards the end of the infection, and in many cases can linger after all other symptoms have cleared. However, for some, a dry cough can develop in the early stages.
- Irritants in the atmosphere can cause the back of the throat to become inflamed. A good example of this is when a non - smoker enters a smoky environment, which can cause them to cough.
- Sufferers of hay fever often find their throat affected by airborne allergens, such as pollen. Allergies to other particles, such as pet hair, can also lead to the same symptoms.
- Acid reflux has recently been accepted as a trigger for dry coughs. When acid from the stomach travels up to the back of the throat, tiny amounts can enter the upper respiratory tract. This then causes inflammation, which leads to coughing. This is more likely to occur when lying down flat.
- Certain medications can cause a dry cough as a side-effect. Particularly those used to treat high blood pressure.
- Psychological conditions, where coughing has become habitual. This type of dry cough doesn't relate to any infection or illness, and in many cases, the sufferer isn't even aware they are coughing. This type of cough is often referred to as a psychogenic cough.
- Anxiety or stress can cause the breathing to become shallow, which can trigger the cough reflex.
- Asthma flare-ups will cause the airways to become partially blocked and inflamed, which will likely cause a bout of dry coughing.
On rare occasions, a persistent dry cough lasting beyond three weeks can sometimes be the result of a more serious underlying condition, such as heart disease or cancer. In most cases, it will likely be harmless, but if you're worried about a persistent cough and aren't sure of its cause, it is recommended you visit your GP for advice.