Coughing is a natural reflex that helps clear the airways of irritants. A dry cough is one that does not produce mucus.
There are several causes of a dry cough with chest pain. In some cases, these symptoms go away on their own, but they may stem from an underlying condition that requires prompt treatment.
This article explores various causes of a dry cough accompanied by chest pain and the treatments available. We also provide prevention tips and advice about when to see a doctor.
The upper respiratory tract includes the nasal passages, sinuses, and the part of the mouth that sits behind the nose and nasal cavity.
Both viruses and bacteria can cause URTIs. However, the vast majority are caused by viruses, such as:
A viral URTI typically heals on its own, but a bacterial URTI may require antibiotics.
Airborne irritants, such as fumes and vapors, can irritate the throat and airways, triggering a dry cough. Severe or persistent coughing may then cause chest pain.
If coughing and chest pain may result from exposure to an irritant, it is important to avoid exposure whenever possible. This may involve wearing a mask that covers the mouth and nose.
There is no cure for asthma, but medications can manage it. Some options include:
- Inhaled corticosteroids: These medications help reduce inflammation of the muscles surrounding the airways, helping the person breathe more easily.
- Anticholinergics: These help open up the airways.
- Bronchodilators: These quickly relax and open up the airways to alleviate symptoms.
Also, take steps to avoid potential triggers, such as:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes stomach acid to frequently leak upward, out of the stomach and into the esophagus — the tube that connects the mouth and stomach.
Stomach acid that leaks into the esophagus can also irritate the throat, triggering a dry cough.
Treatment for GERD may include a combination of dietary changes, medications, and possibly surgery.
To manage GERD, it can help to:
- Avoid eating spicy or greasy foods that may trigger acid reflux.
- Avoid overeating.
- Avoid eating within 2–3 hours of going to bed.
- Lose any excess weight, if a doctor advises it.
- Quit smoking, if applicable.
Some medical options for GERD include:
- Antacids: These medications can alleviate heartburn and other mild GERD symptoms.
- H2 blockers: These can decrease acid production.
- Proton pump inhibitors: These can decrease acid production and help heal the lining of the esophagus.
- Prokinetics: These can speed up the emptying of the stomach.
A person may be unaware that they have heart disease until they experience a cardiac event, such as a heart attack or heart failure.
Heart failure can cause symptoms such as chest pain and a cough. Other possible signs and symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- swelling of the feet, legs, or abdomen
- swelling of the veins within the neck
The treatment for heart disease depends on the type. Usually, however, it involves taking medications.
This refers to air escaping from a lung into the space between it and the chest wall. As the air collects in this space, it puts pressure on the lung, eventually keeping it from fully inflating when the person inhales.
Symptoms of a collapsed lung can include:
- a dry cough
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain when breathing
- pain on one side of the chest
The treatment of a collapsed lung depends on the cause.
In some cases, the hole in the lung heals with rest. However, a doctor still needs to monitor the situation closely.
Otherwise, a doctor may need to insert a tube into the space between the lung and the chest wall to release the trapped air. This reduces pressure on the lung, allowing it to expand.
- shortness of breath
- persistent or recurring lung infections
- tiredness or weakness
- a loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- coughing up blood
A person who experiences any of the above should receive medical care. The doctor will examine the chest and order diagnostic tests.
The right treatment plan varies from person to person. Doctors will consider:
- the person’s age
- their overall health
- the cancer’s type and stage
Some potential treatment options include:
Some causes of a dry cough with chest pain require medical attention, but a person may be able to treat other causes at home.
Some home care strategies include:
- using an indoor humidifier to help keep the airways moist
- drinking plenty of fluids
- avoiding exposure to possible irritants or allergens
- taking over-the-counter cough suppressants
If home care has no effect or the cough persists for longer than a few weeks, contact a doctor.
It is not always possible to prevent a cough, but a person may be able to reduce their risk by:
- practicing good hygiene to help prevent viral and bacterial infections
- avoiding potential irritants and asthma triggers
- identifying and avoiding GERD triggers
To prevent heart disease, which can trigger a dry cough and chest pain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:
Most coughs result from a mild URTI. These infections tend to clear up on their own within a few days, though they may require antibiotics, depending on the pathogen involved.
See a doctor if a cough persists or worsens, especially if it is accompanied by pain or other concerning symptoms.
A person should receive emergency care if they experience severe, rapid, and unexplained chest pain.
A variety of health issues can cause a dry cough with chest pain. Some are relatively benign, while others can signal a more serious underlying condition.
See a doctor if any cough persists or worsens. It is also important to receive care for a cough accompanied by chest pain. If this pain is sudden or severe, it can indicate an emergency.