What is dry cough?
Every type of cough devoid of muco-catarrhal expectoration is dressed in the adjective " dry " or " non-productive ".
Depending on the triggering cause, dry cough may suddenly appear and disappear just as quickly, or persist for many weeks.
Cough is not a disease: rather, it is a symptom that occurs when the respiratory mucous membranes are irritated by viral, bacterial, smog, smoke or dust.
The cough is therefore a defensive and protective reflex that the organism adopts to eliminate the irritating agent from the airways.
Most often, dry cough is not a phenomenon in itself; so much so that it is often accompanied by other symptoms that vary clearly according to the triggering cause.
Being a recurrent phenomenon in most influenza states, dry cough tends to occur in association with characteristic symptoms such as fever, general malaise, sore throat, nausea, hoarse voice and joint pain.
Less frequently, the clinical picture of dry cough is complemented by other symptoms, such as halitosis (bad breath), bleeding gums, diarrhea, loss of appetite and rash.
In most people, dry cough worsens during the night, to gradually fade in the early hours of the morning.
Dry cough is a characteristic symptom of numerous respiratory diseases of infectious, allergic, traumatic and even neoplastic origin.
Let us therefore see how dry cough begins in the different diseases related to it, and from which other symptoms it comes alongside:
- Asthma: dry cough of asthmatic origin is accompanied by more or less persistent wheezing, difficulty breathing and chest tightness.
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease): cough and difficulty breathing are characteristic symptoms of this terrible condition. The dry cough, however, is not a ubiquitous symptom in the context of COPD: in fact, while some patients suffer from this type of disorder, in other cases the disease is manifested by fat cough (catarral).
- Acute bronchitis: inflammation of the bronchial tree shows variable symptoms. If during the first stages acute bronchitis is distinguished by dry and irritated cough, in the advanced stage the disease produces a typically catarral cough (fat cough), accompanied by fever and general malaise.
- Heart disease with venous hypertension (congestive heart failure): the dry and insistent cough typical of this disorder is known precisely as a cardiac cough .
- Complication of pulmonary sarcoidosis: even this type of chronic inflammation can cause dry cough. The simultaneous presence of granulomas (formation of cellular agglomerates) and dry cough reveals a suspicion of pulmonary sarcoidosis.
- Pleural empyema: this is an accumulation of purulent fluid (rich in pus) in the pleural cavity, which is distinguished by the appearance of cough associated with dyspnea, chest pain, fever and asthenia.
- Pulmonary emphysema: a chronic and persistent dry cough can sometimes hide a form of pulmonary emphysema (a complex pathology of the lungs which tends to worsen progressively, eventually degenerating into respiratory deficit).
- Viral laryngitis: dry cough is a typical symptom of acute laryngeal inflammation which, fortunately, tends to resolve itself over a short period.
- Pertussis: in its initial stages, pertussis manifests itself with numerous dry, short and continuous coughs, which lead to an unmistakable noisy inspiration comparable to a shrill rattle. At the end of the series of 5-6 strokes of dry cough, vomiting follows with the emission of a mucous and stringy sputum.
- Pleurisy: inflammation of the membrane that covers the chest and lungs. The dry cough typical of pleurisy, anguished and sometimes bloody, is often accompanied by fever, difficulty breathing and tachycardia.
- Pneumothorax and pleural effusion (respectively, pathological accumulations of air / liquid in the pleural cavity): the dry cough characteristic of these pathological conditions is particularly irritating and continuous.
- Infectious pneumonia: based on the causative agent, inflammation of the lungs may present with dry or oily cough. Dry cough is therefore not a distinctive feature of infectious pneumonia: to ascertain the type of pathogen involved, careful diagnostic investigation is required.
- Allergic reactions (eg rhinitis): in some patients, even exposure to allergens (eg pollens) can produce symptoms such as dry and persistent cough, characterized by wheezing, groans and breathing difficulties.
- Tuberculosis: potentially severe lung disease transmitted by Mycobacterium tuberculosis . Dry tubercle cough - which tends to last for several weeks - is often accompanied by haemoptysis (ejection of blood from the mouth) and acute chest pains.
- Tumor: neoplasms such as cancer of the esophagus, pharynx, larynx and lung tend to occur, in a more or less intense way, with dry and irritated cough that does not regress with any medication.
Other causes of dry cough
Not necessarily dry cough is synonymous with infectious diseases, allergies or tumors. In fact, many patients develop dry and irritated coughs after inhaling irritants, such as smoking ("smoker's cough"), dust and pollution.
In addition to irritants, some drugs can also induce a dry cough: many patients treated with ACE inhibitors (drugs for the treatment of high blood pressure) often experience collateral symptoms such as a dry cough.
We have seen that dry cough tends to recur again and again during the day, especially when the cause lies in a viral infection. The continuous repetition of coughing can induce bronchopulmonary lesions, even serious ones, such as to be extremely dangerous for those suffering from heart diseases or hypertension. For this reason, in the case of persistent dry cough, it is recommended to resort to specific medications and not to neglect any symptoms, clearly always and only after consulting the doctor.
The medical examination is indispensable when the dry and persistent cough is accompanied by particular symptoms, such as specifically:
- Accelerated heart beat
- Impairment of language ability
- Breathing difficulties
- Sleep disorders (eg insomnia, hypersomnia)
- Drastic weight loss
- Severe pain during swallowing
- Strong chest pain
- Swelling of the legs and ankles
- Frequent urination
When the clinical picture of a patient suffering from chronic dry cough includes one or more of these symptoms, the consultation of a competent figure in the matter proves to be essential to surprise in the bud the onset of any pathologies, even serious ones.