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A dry cough is non-productive and irritating, and sometimes causes a tickly throat. Your chest is not congested, your breathing is alright, and you may feel quite well, apart from the cough.
A dry cough may be the result of a recent head cold or the flu. This is sometimes called a post-viral cough. Dry coughs may be caused by a dry atmosphere, air pollution or a change in temperature.
The cough may also be a sign of other problems, such as asthma, heartburn or stomach acid reflux, heart failure or a side effect of some medicines. Therefore it is important to tell your health professional all your symptoms and medication history.
See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional
- if the person with the dry cough is under five years old
- if you begin coughing up mucus or blood
- if you feel short of breath or wheezy
- if your dry cough is mainly at night, is painful, changes or lasts longer than 10 days
- if you are a smoker
- if you have a temperature, a persistent headache, sore ears or a rash
- if you have recently lost weight or have aching muscles
- if you have high blood pressure, a heart condition, a respiratory illness such as asthma, or stomach problems
- if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as some medicines may not be suitable
- if you have other medical conditions or take other medicines
- if you have allergies to any medicines
- avoid dry environments and drink plenty of water
- gargle with plain water for one minute, three times a day; this can ease symptoms
- cough suppressants are best to stop a dry, irritating cough
- two cough suppressants, pholcodine and dextromethorphan, are contained in most cough mixtures as they have fewer side effects than older cough suppressants, such as codeine
- if you feel there is something from your chest to cough up, such as mucus, then cough suppressants are not appropriate. Discuss the use of a chesty cough medicine with the pharmacist
- if you have a runny nose and cough when you lie down, your nose could be causing the cough and you need to treat this; see your pharmacist for advice
- match the ingredients of a cough mixture to your symptoms; check with your pharmacist
- avoid products for wet coughs, such as guaiphenesin and bromhexine, when you have a dry cough
- some ingredients in combination products should be avoided by the very young, elderly women and pregnant or breastfeeding women; check with your pharmacist
Cough suppressants (antitussives)
e.g. dextromethorphan (Benadryl for the Family Dry Forte, Bisolvon Dry Oral Liquid, Cepacol Cough +, Robitussin Dry Cough Forte, Strepsils Cough Relief), pholcodine (Duro-Tuss Dry Cough Liquid)
- pholcodine is available in cough medicines and lozenges
- dextromethorphan is available in cold and flu tablets, cough medicines and lozenges
- if you only have a dry cough, use a cough suppressant
- if you only have a dry cough, avoid combination medicines containing ingredients that treat other symptoms, such as a blocked nose
- dextromethorphan can interact with other medications; seek advice from the pharmacist
- cough suppressants are also in some cold and flu tablets; check with your pharmacist
Cough soothers (demulcents)
e.g. glycerol, honey, syrup
- cough soothers coat the throat to reduce irritation, dryness and soothe a cough
- cough soothers are contained in cough medicines and some cough lozenges
- sucking on a lozenge produces extra saliva to soothe a cough
- these are safe for most people but some include sugar, so people with diabetes should be careful
- sugar-free mixtures and lozenges are available
e.g. dextromethorphan + phenylephrine + brompheniramine (Demazin Cough & Cold Relief); pholcodine + phenylephrine (Durotuss PE Dry Cough Plus Nasal Decongestant)
e.g. dextromethorphan + pseudoephedrine (Benadryl for the Family Dry Cough and Nasal Congestion Oral Liquid);
dextromethorphan + paracetamol + pseudoephedrine (Demazin Cough Cold and Flu Tablets);
pholcodine + promethazine (Tixylix Nightime Linctus);
pholcodine + pseudoephedrine (Durotuss Dry Cough Liquid plus Nasal Decongestant);
- combination products are useful when you have more than one symptom
- a nasal decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, with a cough suppressant would unblock your nose and suppress a cough
- some contain antihistamines, such as promethazine or diphenhydramine or brompheniramine to stop a runny nose or cough
- sometimes decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, may cause insomnia and restlessness
- antihistamines in cough medicines may cause drowsiness; do not drive or operate machinery while taking them
e.g. Cepacol Cough +, Difflam Anti-Inflammatory Sugarfree Cough Lozenges, Strepsils Cough Relief
- these lozenges contain a cough suppressant, and sometimes other ingredients, to prevent bacterial infection or provide pain relief for a sore throat
- some ingredients in cough lozenges are also included in cough medicines and cold and flu tablets
- some lozenges for cough can also contain a local anaesthetic; it is important not to eat or drink hot items afterwards as this could burn your mouth
- lozenges are not suitable for young children
- some lozenges contain sugar but sugar-free versions are available
Availability of medicines
- GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
- PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
- PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.
Last Reviewed: 13/09/2009
When you have a chesty cough (wet, productive or phlegmy) your chest feels heavy and you may cough up mucus or phlegm. Find out what products are available for a chesty cough.
Cough: productive or 'wet' cough
A productive or 'wet' cough brings up mucus or phlegm. Find out the causes and when to see the doctor.
Habit cough in children
A habit cough is a repetitive cough that occurs in the absence of any underlying disease. The cough is usually loud, harsh, honking or barking, and usually affects school age children.