A young man coughing at home

What causes a dry cough?

What is a dry cough?

A cough is a reflex that clears the airways of secretions and irritants such as smoke, dust and allergens. A cough can be classified as a dry, unproductive cough or a productive, chesty cough. A dry cough is an unproductive cough where there is no mucus present. A chesty cough is a productive cough where there is mucus or phlegm present.1

For more information on chesty coughs, click here.

A young man coughing at home

What causes a dry cough?

Some causes of dry cough include:2

  • The common cold
  • A post-viral cough
  • Allergies
  • Smoking

Dry cough can be aggravated by:2

  • Air pollution
  • Breathing cold, dry air
  • Inhaled irritants such as dust or smoke
  • A change in temperature

Do I have a dry cough?

Identifying the type of cough you have is an important step in getting the right treatment. A dry cough can also be described as non-productive, tight, tickly and irritating.2

If you have different symptoms, you may have a chesty cough.

How to relieve a dry cough?

For a dry cough, the aim is to reduce cough symptoms and to identify and relieve the underlying cause of the dry cough.  A cough suppressant such as dextromethorphan may be used to reduce the urge to cough.2

Dextromethorphan acts on the cough control centre to provide soothing relief from dry, irritating coughs.3

Self-care tips for dry cough relief

Resting and giving yourself a little TLC can help you manage dry cough symptoms. Try these self-care tips next time you feel the tickle of a dry cough:2

  • Honey — Honey can soothe the back of the throat and relieve the irritation triggered by a dry cough.
  • Drink plenty of fluids — Warm broths and herbal teas can help soothe your throat.
  • Salt water gargle — Gargling with salt water may help with a dry cough when you have a cold or sore throat.

When should I see a doctor about my dry cough?

Seek medical advice if you:2

  • start to cough up blood or copious amounts of mucus (phlegm);
  • are short of breath or wheezy
  • the cough is mainly at night
  • have associated chest pain
  • have a fever
  • have a hoarse voice
  • the cough is associated with vomiting or a choking sensation
  • have other symptoms such as an ongoing headache, sore ears or a rash
  • have recently lost weight or have general muscle aches
  • the cough is in an infant aged 6 months or younger
  • the cough has lasted longer than 10 days, with little or no improvement
  • you have high blood pressure, respiratory illness (such as asthma), gastrointestinal problems or are taking other medicines.

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Always read the label and follow the directions for use.

MAT-AU-2102740, Dec 2021


[1] Cough in Adults – Lung and Airway Disorders – MSD Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. MSD Manual Consumer Version. Sep 2022 [cited 21 march 2023]. Available from: www.msdmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/symptoms-of-lung-disorders/cough-in-adults
[2] Cough: dry cough – MyDr.com.au [Internet]. 2021 [cited 21 March 2023]. Available from: https://mydr.com.au/symptoms/cough-dry-cough/
[3] Bisolvon Dry Oral Liquid CMI March 2021

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