Dry Cough and Mesothelioma

Treatment // September 24, 2020
A dry cough can be an early sign of pleural mesothelioma.

A dry cough is a common symptom of pleural mesothelioma. Patients may notice the non-productive cough as an early warning sign of the asbestos-related cancer. Dry coughing may lead to misdiagnosis as a less-severe illness.

The severity of the dry cough can differ from patient to patient. The cough may intensify as mesothelioma progresses. Pleural mesothelioma patients may seek treatment for a dry cough to improve quality of life.

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What Is a Dry Cough?

A dry cough is a cough that does not produce any phlegm or mucus. This type of cough is often caused by throat irritation.

An occasional dry cough is not always cause for alarm.

A dry cough can be the body’s response to remove irritants in the airway. However, a persistent dry cough may be a sign of a larger issue.

Types of Dry Cough

Acute: A dry cough that lasts fewer than eight weeks.

Chronic: A dry cough that lasts more than eight weeks.

A chronic dry cough is an early sign of pleural mesothelioma. This dry cough is caused by airborne asbestos particles entering the body and lodging within the throat, lungs and/or nasal passages.

Dry Cough vs. Wet Cough

The most obvious difference between a dry and wet cough is the presence of phlegm or mucus. A dry cough does not produce phlegm, while a wet cough is productive and may sound “soupy.”

Wet coughs are often caused by infections, such as the common cold.

Signs of a wet cough:

  • Produces phlegm or mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest

Mesothelioma-Related Dry Cough

Pleural mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos embeds in the lining of the lungs, forming tumors. This may put pressure on the airways and cause irritation.

The irritation caused by mesothelioma tumors and asbestos fibers may cause a dry cough. 

The inflamed pleura (lung linings) may also cause shortness of breath and chest pain. These pleural mesothelioma symptoms may begin in the early stages of the cancer and worsen as the tumors spread.

In the later stages of the disease, the dry cough may be worsened by other mesothelioma symptoms, such as fluid buildup in the lungs.

Can Patients With Other Forms of Mesothelioma Develop a Dry Cough?

A dry cough is most common among patients with pleural mesothelioma. However, patients with other forms of mesothelioma may develop a dry cough if the cancer spreads to the lungs.

Mesothelioma Treatments May Cause a Dry Cough

Although mesothelioma patients may experience a dry cough as a result of the cancer, certain mesothelioma treatments can also cause the symptom.

Mesothelioma patients often undergo radiation treatment. Researchers have found this treatment modality may result in a dry cough. For some patients, the dry cough can become productive (wet) with additional rounds of treatment.

Surgical treatment for pleural mesothelioma may also result in dry cough. Although the surgery itself doesn’t typically cause a cough, patients undergoing surgery may develop pneumonia or fluid in the lungs. These secondary conditions may cause a dry cough.

If you experience a dry cough from a mesothelioma treatment, talk to your doctor about potential treatment options. Your medical care team may be able to alter your mesothelioma treatment to prevent such side effects from worsening.

Other Causes of Dry Cough

While a dry cough is common among pleural mesothelioma patients, it is not the only cause of the symptom.

Other conditions that may cause a dry cough include:

  • COVID-19
  • Asthma
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Smoking
  • Allergies
  • ACE inhibitors

If you or a loved one is experiencing a dry cough with shortness of breath, fever, fatigue and a loss of taste or smell you should seek testing for COVID-19.

Those with compromised immune systems, such as mesothelioma patients, are at an increased risk for COVID-19 complications. Cancer patients should follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to prevent contracting the coronavirus.

More information on the COVID-19 pandemic, including a complete list of symptoms and testing locations, can be found on the CDC’s website.

Treating Mesothelioma-Related Dry Cough

Dry cough due to mesothelioma can be treated curatively or through less-invasive symptom-management options.


Mesothelioma surgery may relieve a dry cough. Treating mesothelioma with surgery involves removing tumors. Tumor removal may relieve pressure on the lungs and airways. This may then eliminate or reduce severity of a cough.

Pleural mesothelioma surgeries include:

Surgery may be invasive and might not be a viable option for all patients.

Fluid Removal

For mesothelioma patients with a dry cough related to pleural effusion, removing the fluid buildup may relieve the cough.

Fluid removal may be completed through:

Fluid removal should reduce pressure on the lungs and may ease dry cough.

Some patients may not be good candidates for the above doctor-performed treatments. Patients at any stage of mesothelioma may find relief from the following at-home dry cough treatments

What Are at-Home Dry Cough Treatments?
  • Over-the-counter cough suppressants (antitussives)
  • Menthol cough drops
  • Humidifier
  • Soup or broth
  • Honey in tea or warm water
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Gargle salt water

Alternative therapy options may also help ease discomfort related to a dry cough. Patients may find dry cough relief through:

  • Acupuncture
  • Meditation (for breath control)
  • Aromatherapy

Individuals suffering from a dry cough should speak to a medical professional about their symptoms.

A dry cough may be related to environmental factors, such as secondhand smoke. The symptom may also be an early sign of a more serious condition, such as mesothelioma. Beginning the discussion around a dry cough immediately may lead to early diagnosis and treatment.