Symptoms of Mesothelioma: Dry Cough

What does it mean when you have a dry cough? As a natural reflex, coughing is not automatically considered a symptom of disease. Coughing can be a reaction to something caught in your throat or lungs caused by irritants in the air (such as inhaling smoke or dust). However, if a cough continues for several weeks, it could be a sign of a more serious health problem.

A dry cough (i.e., a non-productive cough that does not bring up phlegm) is a common side effect of respiratory complications. Cancer is just one, potential cause, and your doctor will rule out any other possibilities before making a diagnosis. Imaging tests like X-rays and CT scans are typically used to look at the lungs and airways for blockages and diagnose the source of the cough.

Exposure to certain carcinogens can irritate the throat and lungs, and even lead to long-term damage. Asbestos exposure, for instance, can lead to cell mutations and, eventually, cancers of the lungs, throat, or the linings of the heart, chest, or abdominal cavities (known as mesotheliomas).

What Causes Dry Cough?

While pleural mesothelioma is one cause of a dry cough, it is rare, and other causes are much more common. Other sources for coughing can include:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Inhaling dust, chemicals, or pollution
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Postnasal drip
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Some medications

To eliminate other possible health problems, your doctor will ask you a few questions about your symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle habits that could affect your health. Next, they will perform a physical exam, asking you to breathe deeply as they check for irregularities. The doctor may also set you up to undergo diagnostic testing, including:

Imaging tests (i.e., X-ray, CT scan) Imaging scans capture digital images of the inside of the body to let doctors identify complications.
Endoscopy (i.e., bronchoscopy) Endoscopes (long, thin tubes with a camera and light attached to the end) are placed into the mouth, down the throat, and used to look at the airways, stomach, or top of the small intestine.
Spirometry A type of lung function test that has the patient breathe into a device to measure the capability of their lungs.
Throat swab Doctors swab the back of the throat to analyze the cells found there for signs of irregularity.

Depending on the test results, the cause of your dry cough could vary from tumors growing in the windpipe to inflammation caused by airborne allergens. Because some of the causes of dry cough can be fatal, it’s important to speak with a doctor if you have developed a chronic, dry cough (i.e., coughing lasting more than eight weeks).

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Long-term Risks of a Dry Cough

On its own, a chronic cough may not seem like a serious health problem. However, combined with other symptoms, a dry cough may point to potentially fatal diseases like:

  • Acute/chronic sinusitis
  • Bronchiolitis
  • COPD
  • Croup
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Emphysema
  • Heart failure
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)
  • Laryngitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Lung infection
  • Tuberculosis

The effect a chronic, dry cough can have on your breathing includes reducing lung function and the amount of oxygen in the blood. Over time, these complications can lead to even graver health issues. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), some of the side effects of a chronic, dry cough include:

  • Broken ribs
  • Chest and muscle aches
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Incontinence
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sore throat and hoarse voice


Treating the symptom of dry cough may be managed with over-the-counter medications for temporary relief. The ALA recommends eating cough drops, hard candy, or honey to soothe a cough. A vaporizer or steamy shower can also help loosen blockages in the chest.

If you have a diagnosis for the cause of your dry cough, a prescription may better help you manage your symptoms. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy may be required to cure symptoms caused by tumors.

Mesothelioma Support Team

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