Nonproductive Cough

What Causes Dry Cough?

Dry cough can have various causes, ranging in severity from 'needs attention' to 'generally fatal'.  Finding the true cause means ruling out or confirming each possibility – in other words, diagnosis.

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Diagnosis is usually a complex process due to the sheer number of possible causes and related symptoms.  In order to diagnose dry cough, we could:

  • Research the topic
  • Find a doctor with the time
  • Use a diagnostic computer system.
The process is the same, whichever method is used.

Step 1: List all Possible Causes

We begin by identifying the disease conditions which have "dry cough" as a symptom.  Here are four possibilities:
  • Pneumonia
  • Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis)
  • Leukemia
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis

Step 2: Build a Symptom Checklist

We then identify all possible symptoms and risk factors of each possible cause, and check the ones that apply:
frequent 'chills'
loss of appetite
frequent confusion/disorientation
history of tender muscles
major unexplained weight loss
fatigue after slight exertion
frequent swollen axillary nodes
blue/bluish fingernails
weak appetite
history of pain when breathing
painful cervical nodes
minor chest pain
... and more than 30 others

Step 3: Rule Out or Confirm each Possible Cause

A differential diagnosis of your symptoms and risk factors finds the likely cause of dry cough:
Cause Probability Status
Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) 96% Confirm
Pulmonary Fibrosis 18% Unlikely
Pneumonia 5% Ruled out
Leukemia 1% Ruled out
* This is a simple example to illustrate the process

Arriving at a Correct Diagnosis

The Analyst™ is our online diagnosis tool that learns all about you through a straightforward process of multi-level questioning, providing diagnosis at the end.

In the Respiratory Symptoms section of the questionnaire, The Analyst™ will ask the following question about nonproductive cough:
Do you have a cough that does not produce mucus (a 'dry cough')?
Possible responses:
→ Don't know
→ No
→ Yes, for less than a month
→ Yes, for over a month but less than a year
→ Yes, for more than a year
Based on your response to this question, which may indicate absence of dry cough, recent dry cough or chronic dry cough, The Analyst™ will consider possibilities such as:

Viral pneumonia often produces a dry cough at the beginning.  The cough usually becomes worse and produces a small amount of mucus.  Mycoplasma pneumonia is associated with a cough that tends to come in violent attacks, but produces only sparse whitish mucus.

Pulmonary Fibrosis

A chronic dry, hacking cough is characteristic of Pulmonary Fibrosis.

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