After exposure to asbestos, it can be years before an individual develops mesothelioma symptoms. People may not immediately worry due to ambiguous early symptoms, such as shortness of breath and coughing. As a result, mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed as a less serious illness.

A dry cough is one of the first symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. However, dry cough is a common symptom of many illnesses. It may be difficult for people with mesothelioma to recognize their cough as a symptom of cancer. It’s important for individuals with a history of asbestos exposure to recognize chronic dry cough as one of the first signs of mesothelioma. Early diagnosis and treatment may improve patient survival.

What Is a Dry Cough?

A dry cough is a non-productive cough, meaning it does not produce phlegm or mucus. In general, coughing is a reflex triggered by the body to keep airways clear. It is a common symptom of many different conditions.

An occasional dry cough is normal and may be associated with asthma, allergies or the common cold. However, persistent and frequent coughing could be a sign of a more serious illness. If a patient’s cough lasts longer than eight weeks, it is chronic.

A chronic, dry cough is one of the first symptoms of pleural mesothelioma. It may be easily misdiagnosed as a symptom of common respiratory conditions. Individuals who develop a dry cough and believe they were exposed to asbestos in the past should get additional testing from a doctor.

Mesothelioma & Dry Cough

Pleural mesothelioma develops after asbestos fibers become embedded in the lining of the lungs (pleura). Over time, irritation from asbestos causes the pleura to thicken and puts pressure on the lungs. This pressure causes a dry cough, as well as shortness of breath and chest pain.

Patients may begin to experience dry cough in stage 1 or stage 2 of mesothelioma. As the cancer progresses, the cough may become more aggressive and painful. The severity of the cough increases due to inflammation of the lungs and throat. Tumor growth and other mesothelioma-related symptoms may also cause coughing.

In later mesothelioma stages, tumor growth can put pressure on the lungs and damage nerves within the pleura. This can lead to a frequent dry cough. Conditions caused by pleural mesothelioma, such as pleural effusion and pneumonia, can also induce a dry cough.

Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma typically don’t develop a dry cough. Some peritoneal mesothelioma patients may have a dry cough if the cancer metastasizes (spreads) into the chest cavity.

Dry Cough as a Side Effect of Mesothelioma Treatment

Although there are treatments for dry cough, some mesothelioma treatments can intensify coughing. Radiation therapy is a common mesothelioma treatment that causes dry cough.

Patients who undergo mesothelioma surgery may also risk a recurring cough. Some individuals may develop pneumonia or other infections as a result of aggressive surgery. Dry cough is a secondary symptom of these infections.

Other Causes of Dry Cough

Dry cough is not solely a mesothelioma symptom. There are many illnesses that may produce frequent coughing. Additional causes of dry cough include:

  • ACE inhibitors
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • COVID-19
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Postnasal drip
  • Smoking
  • Upper respiratory infection

It’s important to acknowledge dry cough as a common symptom of COVID-19. People who develop a cough alongside shortness of breath, fever, fatigue and loss of taste or smell should get tested for COVID-19. A complete list of coronavirus symptoms is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Cancer patients are especially vulnerable to coronavirus symptoms and complications. Mesothelioma patients should take additional precautions against COVID-19 exposure.

Treating Mesothelioma-Related Dry Cough

There are medications and treatments available to relieve mesothelioma-related dry cough. By undergoing treatment, mesothelioma patients can improve their quality of life.

Dry cough treatment may vary based on the root cause of a patient’s cough. Treatment options include over-the-counter and prescription medication, surgery, palliative therapy, environmental adjustments and home remedies.


Mesothelioma doctors perform surgery to remove cancerous tumors. These surgeries help reduce pressure on the lungs. Surgery may relieve patient symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath.

Palliative therapy

Some palliative treatments may also relieve coughing by reducing pressure on the lungs. Procedures like pleurocentesis and pleurodesis drain fluid from the pleural space to ease symptoms.

Cough suppressants and other medications

Home Remedies for Dry Cough
  • A humidifier
  • A warm salt water gargle
  • Anti-inflammatory herbs
  • Menthol cough drops
  • Tea, broth or other hot beverages

Prescription and over-the-counter medications can help suppress a recurring dry cough. These medications include steroids, Robitussin® (dextromethorphan) or an inhaler. Patients should consult their mesothelioma doctor about the best medication for their diagnosis.

Environmental considerations

Environmental factors may also influence a patient’s ability to breathe. Poorly ventilated or heavily polluted areas may trigger coughing. Mesothelioma patients should avoid aerosol sprays, perfumes and cigarette smoke.

The Importance of Early Detection

Proper diagnosis and early detection of mesothelioma is the best way to improve a patient’s prognosis. Recognizing dry cough as an early symptom of the disease can help reduce the risk of misdiagnosis. For mesothelioma patients, early intervention may improve life expectancy and overall quality of life.