Coughing is a natural reflex that helps to clear the airways of mucus and other irritants. Coughs can occur due to a simple irritation in the throat, or they may develop in response to an infection or inhalation of a foreign object.
This article outlines the various causes of a cough without a fever, along with their associated treatments. We also provide advice on home remedies and when to see a doctor.
Coughing is a natural reflex that helps clear the airways of mucus and other irritants.
There are two basic types of cough: productive and non-productive.
Productive coughs, or wet coughs, produce mucus, whereas non-productive coughs, or dry coughs, do not produce mucus.
Coughs also differ according to their severity and duration.
Below are some potential causes of a cough without a fever.
Adults typically get
The common cold may cause a mild to moderate cough, usually without a fever. Other possible symptoms of a cold include:
The common cold usually goes away within a week or two without the need for medical treatment.
However, a person can take over-the-counter (OTC) medications to help to alleviate the symptoms.
A person can learn more about how to treat a cold here.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid and other stomach contents frequently leak out of the stomach and back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth and stomach.
Acid reflux can irritate the lining of the esophagus, triggering a cough.
Other possible symptoms include:
The following lifestyle changes may help people to manage GERD:
If lifestyle changes do not lead to an improvement in GERD, a person may require OTC or prescription medications.
A person can learn more about treatment for GERD here.
Postnasal drip is where excess mucus builds up in the back of the sinuses and trickles down the back of the throat. This trickling can irritate the throat, causing a person to cough.
Other possible symptoms of postnasal drip include:
The following home treatments may help to alleviate the symptoms of postnasal drip:
A person can learn more about the treatment for postnasal drip here.
Whooping cough requires treatment with antibiotics.
Prompt treatment will help lessen the severity of the illness and reduce the risk of passing the infection on to others.
In some cases, a person can experience a cough without fever after the initial infection has resolved.
According to one 2016 article, inflammation increased mucus production, and damage to the upper and lower airways can cause a post-infectious cough.
A person may experience a post-infectious cough after the following conditions:
Treatment for a post-infectious cough includes medication, such as:
The cause of a cough without fever in children can be the same as those for adults. However, certain causes are more common in children than in adults. We outline some causes below.
Children may put objects in their mouth out of curiosity or experimentation or to alleviate the discomfort of teething. If a child accidentally inhales a small object, it can become trapped in the airways. This can lead to coughing.
In some cases, coughing helps to dislodge the object from the child’s airways.
In other cases, the object may cause a complete blockage of the airways, which results in choking. This is a medical emergency. A child who is choking will be unable to cough, cry, or breathe.
If a child has inhaled an object and is coughing, the act of coughing should help to dislodge the object.
However, a child who is showing signs of choking will require emergency treatment to dislodge the object. The treatment will depend on the age of the person who is choking.
Children and adults over 1 year of age will require the Heimlich maneuver. Babies younger than 1 will require rescue back blows and chest thrusts.
Some children may clear their throats when nervous or anxious. Some people refer to this as a “habit cough.”
The treatment for a habit cough may involve:
When diagnosing the cause of a cough without fever, a doctor will ask about the symptoms a person is experiencing. They may also carry out a physical exam, during which they will use a stethoscope to listen for any unusual sounds in the lungs.
A doctor may also recommend other diagnostic procedures, including:
An acute cough may sometimes improve following home treatment, such as:
Some people may also find relief by using OTC medications, such as:
Certain cough and cold medications are not suitable for children. A person can discuss suitable options with their pharmacist or doctor.
Coughs should improve without medical intervention in 3–4 weeks. However, if a cough persists beyond 4 weeks, a person should see their doctor for a diagnosis.
A person should also see their doctor if any of the following symptoms accompany their cough:
Coughing can occur for many different reasons. A cough that occurs without a fever may be due to a simple irritation in the throat, or inhalation of a foreign object. It may also be a symptom of an infection.
Coughs that are due to an infection are often accompanied by a fever.
However, in some cases, people will not develop a fever. In other cases, the cough is a symptom that persists long after the initial fever has passed.
If a person does not notice an improvement in their cough after several weeks, they should see a doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
People should also seek medical attention for accompanying symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and increased mucus production.
Last medically reviewed on August 24, 2020