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Can Cough Syrup help dry cough?

Antitussive cough medications work by diminishing the cough reflex. This alleviates the desire to cough, making them especially beneficial for dry coughs. Some antitussives contain codeine and are available by prescription only

Dry Cough Treatments and Medications

Nobody likes to be stuck with a cough. Fortunately, for many of us, it disappears after a few days or weeks, but for some people, it can last for over eight weeks and move into chronic territory. In order to treat your cough, it helps to understand what type of cough you have, and if there is an underlying condition or issue causing it. Then, you can learn how to treat it and get back to breathing easily.

NOTE ON COVID-19: According to the World Health Organization (WHO) one of the most common symptoms caused by COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus, is dry cough, along with a mild fever and feeling tired. While some people with COVID-19 have no symptoms, others also may have a runny nose, congestion, muscle aches, sore throat, diarrhea, or even difficulty breathing. If you are experiencing a dry cough along with any of these other symptoms, please contact your doctor for advice on what steps to take.

What is a dry cough?- Best cough syrup for dry cough

Simply put, a dry cough is a cough that does not produce any mucus or phlegm. Technically, a dry cough is termed a nonproductive cough, whereas a ‘wet’ cough, or one with mucus and phlegm, is a productive cough. Be it wet or dry, a cough is an important natural defense mechanism of the body. It’s a natural reflex designed to clear a person’s airways.

For many people, a dry cough is worse at night and can be caused by a myriad of conditions—both respiratory and non-respiratory—from allergies to asthma or acid reflux (GERD). Treatment will vary depending on the cause, however, there are a few things everyone can do to alleviate the symptoms, like sucking on a cough drop or lozenge.


Should your dry cough persist for over eight weeks, you join the 10-20% of the U.S. population that experiences chronic dry cough.

Given the various causes of dry cough, the most essential part of treatment is working with your doctor to determine the underlying cause.

How is a dry cough diagnosed?

Dry cough can be caused by a number of conditions, both respiratory and non-respiratory. Because the cause can be so varied, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider. Your physician can form a proper diagnosis and tailor a treatment plan specifically for you.

Here are some more common causes of dry cough:

  • Postnasal drip
  • Asthma
  • Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Viral infection, like a cold, flu, or coronavirus
  • Allergies or environmental irritants

Other more rare and serious causes of dry cough can also include:

  • Collapsed lung
  • Whooping cough
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart failure
  • Using ACE inhibitor medications

RELATED: ACE inhibitors vs. beta blockers: which blood pressure medication is right for you?

The good news is that a dry cough is often temporary and not a cause for concern. However, in some cases, a dry cough can persist. If your cough persists for more than a few weeks it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause.

Your family doctor or general practitioner should be able to form a diagnosis. In some cases, depending on what the suspected underlying cause, your physician may refer you to a specialist for further tests.

When you visit your doctor, be prepared to answer questions regarding your symptoms and medical history. Some questions your doctor may ask are:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did they start?
  • Have you experienced this before?
  • Do you take any medications?
  • Does anything seem to trigger your cough?
  • Does anything seem to make the cough better?

Questions you may want to ask your doctor include:

  • What do you think is causing my dry cough?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • Can my cough be cured?

Some tests your doctor may request include blood tests, an X-ray or CT scan, or an endoscopy which is when a camera on a thin, long tube is inserted down your throat to check for any abnormalities.

If your dry cough gets worse and starts producing blood or green mucus, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. Coughing up blood can be a sign of a serious problem, while green mucus may mean an infection is present. Also seek immediate medical help if you are experiencing wheezing, trouble swallowing, difficulty breathing or feeling as if something is lodged in/blocking their throat.

Dry cough treatment options

Treatment for your dry cough will vary depending on the underlying cause. For example, if your dry cough is caused by asthma, your healthcare provider may prescribe an inhaler to control your symptoms. If it is caused by GERD, other treatment options like acid-reducing medications might help.

Regardless of the underlying cause, healthcare providers will likely offer a few suggestions to ease the immediate symptoms of a dry cough, especially as it can become quite debilitating due to the loss of sleep.

Here are some common treatments to alleviate the symptoms of dry cough:

  • Cough drops or lozenges: these often include ingredients like honey, menthol, and eucalyptus.
  • Cough suppressants: these over-the-counter medications usually include an ingredient, dextromethorphan, and help to reduce the cough reflex. Your doctor may also prescribe stronger cough medications if necessary.
  • Use steam or a humidifier: these help to decrease irritation in the throat.
  • Sleep elevated: adding an extra pillow or two, or propping up the head of a bed, can sometimes ease dry cough caused by postnasal drip and acid reflux.

Dry cough medicine

There are two main types of medications available to treat a cough, both of which are available OTC at the pharmacy. These are cough suppressants and cough expectorants:

Cough suppressants

Cough suppressants belong to a drug class called antitussives, with the most common active ingredient being dextromethorphan. They work by reducing your cough reflex. Popular brand names include Robitussin Cough, Delsym Cough Suppressant, and Vicks DayQuil.

Cough expectorants

Cough expectorants are used more commonly for wet coughs, rather than dry coughs as they thin any mucus in your throat, making it easier to cough up and expel. The OTC expectorant drug is guaifenesin, with popular brand names including Mucinex and Robitussin Chest Congestion.

Combination medications are available that contain both cough expectorants and suppressants, and are often effective treatments to alleviate symptoms of dry cough.


Decongestants can sometimes help relieve postnasal drip and irritation from allergens, both common causes of dry cough. They help reduce swelling in the nose and can dry out nasal passages, making it easier to breathe. These are available over-the-counter, but should not be used by children under the age of 12. Common brand name decongestants include Sudafed, Neo-Synephrine, and Afrin.

What is the best medicine for dry cough?

Because of the many potential causes of dry cough, it’s impossible to say which is the best medicine to treat it. Many people find relief from symptoms through lozenges and cough syrups, however, the best way to effectively treat the underlying condition is to speak with your doctor.

“It depends on the cause. If it’s a post-infectious irritation in the airways or asthma, an albuterol inhaler can help. If it’s postnasal drip from allergies, a nasal steroid spray or antihistamine can help. If it’s acid reflux, an acid blocker can help,” says Shirin Peters, MD, a primary care physician at Bethany Medical Clinic, NY. Each o’f these has some lifestyle adjustments that can help reduce the severity and reduce the need for medication too.”

The best treatment will vary depending on your symptoms, medical history, and if you’re already taking medications that may interact with some treatments.

RELATED: The best cough medicine

Best medicine for dry cough
Drug name Drug class Administration route Standard dosage Common side effects
Robitussin Maximum Strength (acetaminophen, dextromethorphan-guaifenesin, phenylephrine) Pain reliever/fever reducer, antitussive, expectorant, decongestant Oral 20 mL every four hours Difficulty urinating, dizziness, nausea
Mucinex (guaifenesin) Expectorant Oral One 1200 mg extended-release tablet taken every 12 hours Headache, nausea, vomiting
Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) Nasal decongestant Oral One 30 mg tablet every four to six hours Confusion, chest pain, hallucinations

Dosage may vary based on your medical conditions, read product labels carefully and talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions. Other possible side effects exist. This is not a complete list.

What are common side effects of dry cough medicine?

As with any medication, there are a number of potential side effects when taking medication for dry cough. This is not an exhaustive list, however, some of the more common side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Slowed breathing
  • Shakiness or an unsteady walk
  • Shortness of breath

For a complete list of potential side effects, we encourage you to speak with your doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare professional. They’ll also advise of any potential adverse events or negative drug interactions with other medications.

What are the best home remedies for a dry cough?

There are a number of things you can do at home to either alleviate dry cough or prevent it from persisting. These include:

Cough drops or lozenges

Sucking on cough drops with ingredients like honey, menthol, or eucalyptus can help soothe your sore throat and stop the tickle that often triggers a dry cough.


Swallowing a teaspoon of honey or adding it to your tea can soothe your throat, preventing the tickle that leads to your dry cough. Honey also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help.


Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier may help prevent or reduce a dry cough. Using a humidifier at night can be especially helpful if your cough is disturbing your sleep. This is a recommended treatment by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

OTC medicines

Using over-the-counter medicines like cough suppressants or expectorants can help stop your coughing reflex, offering much needed relief. Popular brands include Robitussin, Mucinex, and Vicks.

Drinking hot liquids like tea or soup

Not only do warm drinks add moisture and instant relief to a dry, tickly throat, they also keep you well hydrated so your body can better fight off any possible infection like a cold or flu.

Frequently asked questions about dry cough

What is a dry cough a sign of? / What causes a dry cough? / Is a dry cough dangerous?

There are many potential causes of dry cough, from allergies to acid reflux, to more serious conditions like lung disease. Often though, it is a symptom of a common cold or flu. If your cough persists for more than a few weeks or worsens, speak to your doctor to determine the underlying cause.

How long does a dry cough last?

Most cases of dry cough resolve themselves within a few days or weeks. This is called an acute dry cough. However, if you have a persistent cough for more than eight weeks it is considered a chronic cough. Speak with your doctor if your dry cough does not go away in a few weeks or if it becomes worse over time.

How do you stop a dry cough?

How you cure a dry cough depends on the underlying cause. You can treat it symptomatically with OTC medicines like cough suppressants or expectorants, or by sipping warm drinks and sucking on cough lozenges. But the best treatment is to work with your doctor to determine the underlying cause for the cough, and treat the cause.

How do I stop a dry cough at night?

“To stop a dry cough at night, sleep with a humidifier to moisten the air and swallow a teaspoon of honey or add it to a cup of warm [caffeine free] tea before bed. If you have postnasal drip or allergies, or if your cough is from GERD, raising your head up with an extra pillow may help,” explains Snehal Smart, MD of Pleural Mesothelioma Center in Delaware.

What are the best dry cough remedies for children?

If children are under 12 years of age, they may be unable to take some OTC medications. A popular remedy for children is honey, as it has anti-inflammatory properties, and soothes the throat at the same time. In some cases, it can also help develop their immune system against allergens. Unlike lozenges, honey also does not pose a choking hazard, but it should only be used in children over 12 months old.

What are the best dry cough remedies for pregnant women?

Some of the best remedies for dry cough in pregnant women include sipping on warm drinks, using a humidifier, and sucking on menthol or honey lozenges, according to Using a menthol chest rub like Vicks Vapor Rub may also help, and is safe to use while pregnant.

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If you are allergic to any drugs like this one, any other drugs, foods, or other substances.

Tell your doctor about the allergy and what signs you had,

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If you have any of these health problems;

Lung or breathing problems like asthma,

trouble breathing, or sleep apnea,

high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood,

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block or narrowing.


If you think there has been an overdose, call your poison control center or get medical care right away.

Be ready to tell or show what was taken, how much, and when it happened.


Use this drug as ordered by your doctor.

Read all information given to you.

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