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Introduction

What is a dry cough?

A dry cough refers to a cough that does not produce mucus (also known as phlegm or sputum). A cough is your body’s defensive reflex that functions to keep your airways clear of irritating or obstructing substances so you can breathe effectively. Over time, a dry cough can often become a productive cough as the lungs produce more sputum.

A dry cough is a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. A dry cough can result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, airway obstruction, and other abnormal processes.

You may have a dry, hacking cough after inhaling a mild irritant, such as dust, smoke or powder. A dry cough may also be the result of a disorder, such as an allergy, or an infectious disease, such as viral laryngitis. A dry cough can accompany serious and potentially life-threatening conditions including congestive heart failure and lung cancer.

Depending on the cause, a dry cough can begin suddenly and disappear quickly, such as after inhaling secondhand smoke. An acute dry cough that comes on suddenly and lasts up to two to three weeks is usually associated with a cold; whereas, a chronic dry cough over a long period of time (lasting more than eight weeks) may be caused by smoking or asthma.

A dry cough can be a sign of a serious or life-threatening disorder. If you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or swollen legs or ankles, seek immediate medical care (call 911). If your dry cough is persistent or causes you concern, see your doctor.

Medical Reviewers: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Review Date: Aug 1, 2013

© Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. Patent US 7,752,060. All Rights Reserved. Third Party materials included herein protected under copyright law. 

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