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Tickly cough

Tickly coughs are dry coughs producing little or no mucus

Tickly coughs are commonly associated with dry coughs and normally arise due to viral infections such as the cold or the flu. In this page, our immune system expert Dr. Jen Tan delves deeper into the causes of tickly coughs and recommends a range of herbal remedies to soothe any irritation.

An introduction to tickly coughs

Tickly coughs are closely related to dry coughs. These terms are used interchangeably and both these types of coughs may be referred to as dry tickly coughs. This page contains information on causes, symptoms and treatments of a tickly cough.

What is a tickly cough?

As tickly coughs or dry coughs produce little or no mucus, they are known as non-productive coughs, distinct from chesty coughs where mucus is produced when coughing.

Tickly coughs result from an irritation in the throat (pharynx) and the cough is triggered to relieve this feeling of irritation.

What causes a tickly cough?

Tickly coughs are most commonly caused by cold and flu viruses.

We pick these viruses up mainly via our hands. These are then transferred to our noses and mouths before travelling to the back of our throat and upper airways (pharynx and larynx).

If our immune system is not able to overcome this infection, viruses enter the tissues of the upper airways, causing inflammation.

Unlike infection further down the respiratory tract, infection of the upper airways does not produce an excessive amount of mucus. However, what it does do is irritate the nerves lining the area, triggering the cough reflex. Tickly coughs can linger days or weeks after the infection appears to have resolved.

Tickly coughs can be triggered by pollution, a smoky atmosphere or cold air. This is because the particles in the air you breathe are trapped by the mucous lining of your throat, causing irritation and the need to cough.

Hayfever can also cause tickly coughs. The body reacts to the presence of pollen by releasing large amounts of the chemical histamine. This causes inflammation of the respiratory tracts, potentially leading to a tickly cough.

It is now known that acid reflux, part of what is called GORD or GERD (Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease) can lead to a dry tickly cough. What happens is that the acidic contents of the stomach travels upwards to the back of the throat and down into the upper part of the respiratory system. Tissues are irritated, triggering the cough reflex. This is more likely to happen when lying down flat and hence, symptoms are often worse at night.

Lastly, some prescribed medicines can lead to a dry or tickly cough, in particular, those used to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure. If you think that this is the case with you, don't stop the medicine you are taking until you speak to your doctor.

Symptoms of a tickly cough

Tickly coughs are most often caused by viral infections and they will probably be accompanied by other symptoms of the common cold or flu  such as an itch at the back of the throat, sneezing or a runny nose.

However, other symptoms may accompany a tickly cough:

  • Sore throat  – this is because the action of coughing is harsh on the tissues of your throat
  • Muscular pain in the chest or abdomen – this arises as frequent coughing can strain your abdominal muscles as they contract
  • Sensitivity to other irritants – exposure to irritants such as pollen or cigarette smoke can make your cough worse.

Remedies for a tickly cough

A tickly cough caused by cold or flu viruses is simply a symptom of the infection, so the first thing to do is to treat the cold or flu. For instance, research has shown that the herb echinacea reduces the severity of symptoms as well as the number of illness days. It does this by helping to maintain the body’s resistance by strengthening the immune system.

There are a number of specific treatments for a tickly cough including:

  • Conventional medicines such as cough suppressants to reduce the activity of the cough reflex
  • Herbal remedies, such as extracts of spruce or pine shoots, have been used traditionally to help tickly coughs coming from the throat
  • Home remedies such as honey soothe the lining of the tissues at the back of the throat.

"I am very pleased to have found out about it from a relative as the cough is now finally going, and the syrup definitely breaks up the cough. I would highly recommend it!"

"It is very effective and tastes pleasant. Very easy to use and the packaging is well designed getting right to the spot."

It is unlikely that antibiotics will help people suffering from a tickly cough as these drugs only work on bacteria and most tickly coughs are the result of viral infections. Antibiotics may be prescribed by your doctor if an underlying lung condition or a ‘secondary’ bacterial infection is present.

How Echinacea helps

Echinacea is a traditional herb known to aid the body in its fight against the symptoms of cold and flu. Supplements like Echinaforce help increase the body’s resistance to infection by strengthening the immune system, allowing the body to fight the misery of colds and flu.

Leave your feedback

I would love to hear what you thought of the information you have read on this page. Just leave your comment below, thanks Dr. Jen Tan

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