Dry Cough: Causes, Types and Home Remedies

Dry Cough: Causes, Types and Home Remedies
Nelton Ramos

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Nelton Ramos.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

A dry cough in children can occur very frequently throughout the year, and we need to be well prepared for it.

If you’ve wondered why your child coughs for no apparent reason when getting up or going to bed, then it’s almost certainly what’s known as a dry cough.

A dry cough is considered to be one in which there is no expectoration. In other words, it is an unproductive cough, as there is no mucus present. It’s also known as an irritative or nervous cough.

A dry cough in children is very common. In fact, experts estimate that a child can get around eight colds a year, and so a dry cough will never be far away. However, you should always go to the pediatrician and follow their instructions before trying to make a diagnosis yourself.

Differences between a productive and unproductive cough

Imagine that something is “stuck” in your respiratory tract. The mucus that we have in it would be irritated. This provokes the coughing reflex which attempts to expel what is hindering the air intake.

This is known as a productive cough because it prevents us from choking, thus expelling what is preventing us from breathing.

A dry cough also seeks to regain full freedom of the respiratory tract. But even though the mucus is irritated, there is nothing there that is interfering. It’s then what is called a compulsive cough, which seeks to “scratch” the irritation in the respiratory tract, but achieves the opposite.

Causes of dry cough in children

There are many factors that can cause a dry cough in children:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Dust in the environment or chemical factors
  • Very dry environments, air conditioners
  • Gastric reflux diseases
  • Irritation due to a cold, flu, laryngitis or bronchitis
Dry Cough: Causes, Types and Home Remedies

Types of dry cough in children

There are two types of dry cough in children, which differ in how long they last.

  1. Acute cough. It doesn’t last longer than 2 weeks, and is usually due to a viral infection of the upper airways.
  2. Chronic dry cough. This will usually last between 3 and 4 weeks. It can be specific or nonspecific, depending on whether there is another underlying problem.

It’s difficult to tell what type of cough it is, or what the cause is, and so don’t hesitate to go and see your pediatrician when your child has these coughing episodes.

Remedies for a dry cough in children

Given that a dry cough can be very annoying for children – and even exhausting – the best we can do is sort it out once once we’ve consulted with the pediatrician.

Here are the most common recommendations for treating a dry cough in children:

  • Cold drinks (water or non-citrus fruit juices). Think of a skin irritation: you wouldn’t put something hot on it would you? They don’t need to be frozen, simply at room temperature or a bit colder
  • Vaporizers. A vaporizer in your room will increase the level of moisture, which will moisten the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and reduce irritation.
  • You can add oils with different components: eucalyptus and laurel, among others.
Dry Cough: Causes, Types and Home Remedies
  • Steam baths. Steam also opens the airways. The most effective treatment for your child is at least 20 minutes in a steam bath, with very hot water.
  • 1 tablespoon of honey with lemon before sleeping. Just before sleeping and right after getting up are the times your child will be most likely to have a dry cough attack. This is because they are in a horizontal position, which increases the feeling of irritation and choking. The best thing for this is a spoonful of honey, which will go down into your throat and soften the irritated mucus. This should help the coughing attacks.
  • When children are very little, they are barely able to control the impulse to cough because of the intense irritation. They too can benefit from a good spoonful of honey with lemon.

Despite these excellent home remedies, you mustn’t forget to go to the doctor, just to ensure you’re taking care of your child’s health adequately.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Lamas, A; Ruiz, M; Máiz, L. Tos en el niño. Archivos de bronconeumología. 50 (7): 263-310. DOI: 10.1016/j.arbres.2013.09.011
  • Martínez, Mª C; Antelo, Mª C. Tos persistente, en Protocolos Diagnóstico Terapeúticos de la AEP: Neumología. Unidad de Neumología práctica. Hospital Infantil La Paz. Madrid.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.