A dry or unproductive cough doesn’t produce mucus. A tickling sensation in the throat can make you have a dry cough. Dry coughs can come on after a cold or flu or if you have COVID-19. Other conditions like GERD, heart failure and lung cancer can cause chronic dry coughs. You may also have chest tightness with a dry cough.
A dry cough doesn’t produce mucus. Because there isn’t mucus blocking the lungs or airways, nothing comes out when you cough. This lack of mucus (phlegm) makes it an unproductive cough.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
A cough is your body’s way of clearing the lungs and airways of irritants so you can breathe better.
When you have an illness that affects your respiratory system, you may cough up mucus. This is a wet cough. Healthcare providers consider a wet cough to be productive because it clears phlegm (mucus) from the lungs and airways. If too much phlegm builds up in the lungs, you may become short of breath and develop other problems.
When you have a dry cough, nothing comes up. This unproductive cough doesn’t open up the lungs or air passages.
With a dry cough, you may feel a tickling sensation in your throat. You may try to clear your throat by coughing. As you forcefully expel air, your throat can become irritated and dry. You may develop a sore throat.
When you have an unproductive dry cough, you essentially cough up air. A dry cough that is very vigorous or lasts longer than three weeks (chronic cough) can strain your lungs or chest muscles. You may develop chest pain with the cough.
Most people have a feeling of chest tightness with a dry cough. You may feel a squeezing sensation in the chest or pressure, like there’s a weight on your chest.
Sudden, unexplained chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack. You should seek immediate medical care.
It can take a while for inflammation from respiratory infections to go away. During this time, the lungs and airways may be extra sensitive to inhaled irritants. This sensitivity can make your throat more ticklish, causing you to cough.
Most people who get sick with COVID-19 have dry coughs — not wet coughs like with the cold or flu. However, wet coughs can also happen with COVID-19 infections. Your healthcare provider may recommend a COVID-19 test to identify the cause of the cough.
Other conditions that cause dry coughs include:
Rarely, a dry cough indicates a more serious, potentially life-threatening health problem. You should see your healthcare provider if you have concerns about a cough.
A chronic dry cough may be a symptom of:
Most dry coughs clear up when you treat the underlying cause. Over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines aren’t usually that helpful. And children younger than 4 years of age shouldn’t take any cough medicine because of the risk for serious side effects.
These at-home remedies can help:
These steps may lower your chances of having a dry cough:
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Many conditions can cause a dry cough. Often, an irritating dry cough will go away when you identify and treat the underlying condition. You can use home remedies to soothe dry coughs that develop after a respiratory illness like a cold. Coughing can inflame lungs and air passages, leading to chest tightness. This symptom should improve when the cough clears up. Rarely, a chronic dry cough indicates a more serious health problem. You should see your healthcare provider any time you have a lingering, unexplained cough.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/29/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.