A dry cough does not produce mucus or phlegm from the airways. It is a common early symptom of SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19.

A person with a dry cough may experience a dry, scratchy, sore, or rough throat.

There may also be a sensation of a tickle in the throat or a patch of the throat that feels dry, even when swallowing. There may not be any relief from a dry cough, even after coughing.

Learn more about a dry cough with COVID-19 in this article.

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A dry cough is a common early symptom of COVID-19. According to some estimates, 60–70% of people who develop COVID-19 symptoms experience a dry cough as an initial symptom.

However, several other conditions can cause a dry cough, including:

Related symptoms

A dry cough that is accompanied by other symptoms may indicate COVID-19 as the cause. These related symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • muscle or joint pain
  • a sore throat
  • a runny or congested nose
  • diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Self-reported symptoms include:

  • a loss of taste and smell
  • a loss of appetite
  • unexplained or unusual exhaustion
  • a high temperature

A 2020 study from Wuhan, China, found that the majority of people with COVID-19 seemed to develop a dry cough 1 day after becoming ill and that the cough lasted for roughly 19 days. The cough persisted for roughly 4 weeks in around 5% of people in the study.

However, ongoing studies are finding that a cough is one of several symptoms that may continue after initial recovery from COVID-19.

Children and young adults can experience COVID-19 symptoms, though they may be less likely to develop COVID-19.

Some studies also suggest that children and young adults may be less likely to experience the common COVID-19 symptoms, including a cough, a fever, and shortness of breath.

In addition, they typically experience less severe forms of the disease and its symptoms. However, an exception to this rule seems to be that infants under 1 year of age with underlying conditions may be more likely to develop severe COVID-19.

Experts know much less about the prevalence or common presentation of a dry cough related to COVID-19 in children and young adults than with COVID-19 in adults.

According to the study above, 54% of people under the age of 18 years experienced a cough as a symptom of COVID-19.

People who continue to experience symptoms after recovery may be experiencing post-COVID conditions. There are several of these conditions, including:

  • long COVID
  • multiorgan effects of COVID-19
  • effects of COVID-19 treatment or hospitalization

Even a person who did not initially have severe COVID-19 symptoms may develop longer-term health issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A cough is a common symptom of long COVID, alongside fatigue, dizziness, and joint pain.

In fact, according to a study in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, online surveys have found that 20–30% of people still experience a dry cough 2–3 months after becoming ill with COVID-19.

An early study from Italy found that 16% of people who recovered from COVID-19 reported still experiencing a cough 2 months after being discharged from the hospital.

More recent studies, such as the one in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, have also found that a cough may continue for weeks to months after recovery from COVID-19.

Some other symptoms associated with post-COVID conditions include:

  • exhaustion
  • nerve and joint pain
  • brain fog, or confusion and memory problems
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • a loss of taste or smell

To reduce the risk of having exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and transmitting it to other people, the CDC recommends the following preventive measures:

  • Wear a face mask when in public and among other people.
  • Wash the hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
  • Stay 6 feet (2 meters) away from people who are not in one’s household.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available.
  • Avoid poorly ventilated indoor areas and crowds.

Because a dry cough may be a symptom of COVID-19, a person should get a test, and self-isolate until they receive the results, if a dry cough:

  • causes a lot of coughing for longer than 1 hour
  • gets worse
  • causes three or more significant coughing episodes within 24 hours

This online tool may be useful if a person wants to self-check for COVID-19.

However, a person needs immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • severe difficulty breathing
  • pale, gray, or bluish skin, nail beds, or lips, depending on a person’s skin tone
  • continuing pressure or pain in the chest
  • an inability to stay awake
  • difficulty waking

To get medical attention, a person can call 911 or the nearest emergency facility and ask for advice on how to safely get treatment for a person who has or may have COVID-19.

A dry cough is one of the most common, and early, symptoms of COVID-19, especially in adults.

Children and young adults may be less likely to experience common COVID-19 symptoms such as a dry cough, or they may experience less severe versions of the disease itself.

A local healthcare professional can offer advice on safe testing and potential treatment for COVID-19. Call 911 or the nearest emergency facility if a person is experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Read this article in Spanish.