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What Does it Mean if My Kid Has a Dry Cough?

January 21, 2022 • Our Blog • General Health
What Does it Mean if My Kid Has a Dry Cough?
Worried about your child’s dry cough? Learn what is likely causing it so you know how to treat it.

Your child’s cough could signal a serious illness — or it could be as harmless as your child just clearing their throat. Most coughs resolve on their own, but if a cough continues for two weeks or more, it’s time to visit your pediatrician to determine the cause and course of treatment.

Coughs are separated into wet coughs, which produce phlegm or mucus, and dry coughs, which do not. A persistent cough of any type should be evaluated along with any other symptoms accompanying it to understand the underlying cause.

Dry Cough Causes

In addition to a lack of mucus and phlegm, a forceful hacking sound characterizes a dry cough. Your child may also complain of a tickling sensation in the throat. Typically, a dry cough is a side effect of another illness or condition. Other symptoms along with the cough can give you clues as to what is causing the dry cough:

Asthma. Asthma is an inflammation of the respiratory airways. According to the American Lung Association, 6.1 million children under the age of 18 suffer from asthma, which can be triggered by environmental irritants like pollen or over-exertion. A dry cough, shortness of breath, and a wheezing sound are common asthma symptoms.

Croup. A viral infection in the vocal cords and larynx, croup often strikes in children between three months and five years of age. The cough usually worsens at night and develops along with noisy breathing, a bark-like cough, or a hoarse voice.

Allergies. Your child’s immune system may mistake a normally harmless agent such as pollen or pet dander as an attacker. To combat the invader, the body releases histamines, which can produce an allergic reaction. In addition to a dry cough, your child may experience watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. 

Whooping Cough. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, develops in the upper respiratory tract due to a bacterial infection. A cough with a “whooping” sound and a low-grade fever are the main symptoms of pertussis. Prompt treatment with antibiotics can clear whooping cough and prevent pneumonia in babies. Luckily, a vaccine has made whooping cough an uncommon childhood illness today.

Viral Infection. A viral infection from a cold and flu may produce a wet cough at first. However, once the infection passes, your child may still have a dry cough as the respiratory airways remain inflamed. A post-viral cough, as it’s termed, typically resolves itself in a few weeks.

COVID-19. With COVID-19 still in circulation, a dry cough could mean your child has caught the upper respiratory virus. Other COVID-19 symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, body aches, loss of smell or taste, runny nose, sore throat, and stomach issues. If your child has been in contact with another person with COVID-19, get your child tested as soon as possible. It’s also important to get your child vaccinated if you have not already done so.

Dry Cough Treatments

When you first hear your child cough, you may be tempted to run to the store and buy over-the-counter cough medicines or syrups. But these medications are ineffective for children under age six and could cause harm if given to children younger than age four. Instead, try these at-home treatments to relieve your child’s cough:

Add Humidity to the Air. Dry air irritates already inflamed airways, but moist air can open up those passageways. A humidifier in the child’s room at night adds moisture to the air. Another tip: Run a hot shower to steam up the air in your bathroom and sit with your child as he or she breathes in the moist air.

Remove Irritants from the Air. If you know which irritants trigger your child’s allergy or asthma (i.e. pollen, pet fir, or cigarette smoke), reduce your child’s contact with those substances. Allergy medication should only be given to your child with your doctor’s permission and direction.

Give Your Child Warm Drinks. Warm, decaffeinated refreshments like tea or chicken broth can soothe scratchy throats. For children over the age of one, you can add a bit of honey to the warm drink.

Elevate Your Child’s Pillow at Night. Post-nasal drip from a dry cough can make it difficult for your child to sleep. A few pillows under your child’s head relieves the cough and lets them (and you) get a good night’s rest.

Medications. Over-the-counter medications should be used cautiously with children and only with your pediatrician’s advice. Asthma is treated with prescription medications to reduce the inflammation in your child’s respiratory tract. However, such medications are only given with a doctor’s prescription and under their supervision. If your child has allergies, you can use over-the-counter medicines, but strictly follow the guidelines for dosages for your child’s size and age.

Is Your Child’s Cough Worrying You?

A dry cough is usually not a cause for alarm. But if your child’s cough lasts longer than two weeks, the pediatricians at Kids’ Health can help you diagnose the cause and prescribe proper treatment. Contact us today!...