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Dry Cough vs. Wet Cough: Which is a Symptom of Mesothelioma?

Key takeaways: Mesothelioma is associated with a persistent dry cough due to asbestos fibers irritating the pleura. This cough presents in the early stages (I and II) and gradually worsens asthe cancer progresses. When irritated (over a span of decades), the pleura thickens and exerts pressure on the lungs, causing a dry cough and a host of other mesothelioma symptoms, like shortness of breath and chest pain. Although a dry cough isn’t specific enough of a symptom of mesothelioma for doctors to screen for mesothelioma, a history of asbestos exposure and/or patient medical history could assist in a quicker diagnosis.

What is a Dry Cough? Wet Cough?

Likely, you’ve heard of dry and wet coughs in the context of illnesses, like the flu or a cold. Wet coughs are productive, meaning that they usually result in the expulsion of mucus or phlegm. More often than not, wet coughs are associated with respiratory illnesses, like pneumonia or the common cold, and are usually accompanied by blocked sinuses, nasal drip, and excess mucus production. On the other hand, dry coughs do not result in any mucus expulsion; they usually present after the instance of a wet cough. In rarer cases, dry coughs are a result of chronic inflammation or environmental irritants.

Whether a cough presents as dry or wet can give clinicians clues as to its cause (and treatment). Wet coughs are usually treated with an expectorant, or a type of medicine that helps with ridding the body of mucus; dry coughs are usually treated with cough suppressants, or medicines that soothe the irritation associated with the feeling of needing to cough. Importantly, these treatments exist within the context of curable illnesses, like a respiratory infection or cold, and can’t be applied to the dry cough associated with mesothelioma.

Despite its long latency period, one of the first symptoms of mesothelioma is a persistent dry cough that doesn’t go away with a cough suppressant. This cough presents in stage I or II, and steadily worsens as the disease progresses. Because a dry cough is also associated with other asbestos-related diseases and lung cancers, this symptom alone isn’t enough to reify a mesothelioma diagnosis. However, if a patient has a known occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos, then this screening process might occur sooner, especially if the patient begins presenting with symptoms associated with mesothelioma.

Why is a Dry Cough a Symptom of Mesothelioma?

The thickening of the pleura, which is the double-membrane surrounding, supporting, and attaching to the lungs, is responsible for the notorious dry cough associated with mesothelioma. The pleura thickens because of asbestos fibers inciting a local (and persistent) immune response—the body wants to destroy or discard the asbestos, but the fibers become crystallized and seriously embedded in tissues. This pleural thickening exerts unprecedented pressure on the lungs, causing a dry cough; this is the body’s attempt to restore balance and alleviate said pressure. Mesothelioma isn’t usually associated with a wet cough because there is no mucus or phlegm to be expelled; rather, a dry cough is indicative of the body’s attempts to relieve pressure. What are other early symptoms of mesothelioma? Like mentioned previously, a persistent dry cough isn’t a specific enough symptom for doctors to screen for mesothelioma. However, when taken within the context of the patient’s other symptoms, work history, and medical history, a dry cough can be an excellent diagnostic tool—especially in conversations about diagnosing mesothelioma quickly.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please call The Halpern Law Firm at 1 (800)-505-6000. We are here to help you navigate the legal process of filing a claim to receive compensation for your cancer diagnosis. We help mesothelioma victims and their families in Pennsylvania.



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