For information about our fair funding campaign, and how to help, please click here. For news on the forthcoming changes to our services, please click here.

How to cope with a dry cough

How to cope with a dry cough

Do you have a dry cough? Whether it's a long-term symptom or something you're experiencing as part of a cold or infection, there are some things you can do at home that might help. 

A dry cough is one that does not produce phlegm or sputum. It can be caused by an inflammation, such as post nasal drip or irritants to the airways such as strong smells, cigarette smoke, or even a change in air temperature especially if mouth-breathing.

If you have a productive cough (which does produce phlegm or sputum), click here.

Discuss your symptoms

It is important that you discuss any cough symptoms with your doctor or nurse. They may want to examine your mouth or your chest to exclude oral infections such as thrush.

Strategies that help:

  • Try to increase your fluid intake – drink plenty of water
  • Sucking sweets or lozenges may help
  • Drink warm water with honey

If you are a Hospiscare patient, your nurse may advise a morphine-based medicine which your doctor may prescribe.

Cough suppression

Coughing may need to be suppressed if the cough is dry and irritates the airways, if it brings on a severe fit of coughing, or if it causes distress. Here are a few suggestions that may help you to stop coughing.

  • Swallow regularly
  • Take sips of water, lemon juice or cold green grape juice
  • Breathe through your nose
  • Take repeated short sniffs
  • Take slow or shallow breaths if it helps
  • Breathe out through pursed lips
  • Suck ice pops, lozenges or frozen green grapes (seedless)
  • Breathe in steam from hot water – you could add a drop or two of eucalyptus essential oil
  • Drink a cup of warm water with honey and lemon
  • For a night time cough, avoid lying on your back
  • Occasionally one brief dry cough will settle it (like scratching an itch).

Pelvic floor exercises

Your pelvic floor can be strained by excessive coughing. Each cough is like a bounce on the pelvic floor muscles, which form a sling between the base of the spine and the front of the pelvic girdle. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles helps prevent leaking and embarrassment.


Feet slightly apart, close back passage and tighten front passages, drawing them up inside. Hold for a count of four. Let go slowly. Do not hold your breath and avoid tightening your buttocks and tummy muscles.

When to practise:

Practise little and often, in different positions, e.g. lying with knees up, sitting, standing. Practise when on the telephone, at the sink, waiting for the kettle to boil, at the bus stop or train station, in the supermarket queue, or even during the adverts on TV. In other words, anywhere, anytime!