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Cold and Flu Center

Non Productive Cough in Children

author image Linda Ray
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
Non Productive Cough in Children
A little boy coughing as a doctor listens to his lungs with a stethoscope. Photo Credit: JPC-PROD/iStock/Getty Images

A common symptom of a cold is a cough, but coughing also can be a signal of a more serious medical complication in children. According to, a cough can be particularly dangerous when your child also has trouble breathing or when the cough is non-productive and doesn't produce any phlegm or relieve tension due to congestion.

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Children experience an average of eight colds or upper respiratory infections per year, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Schools and daycare centers are potential landmines for coughs related to contagious infections. Healthy children can catch a cold or other infection with few side effects and stop coughing in about 10 days. Coughing is one way for children to expel the infection and begin healing.


A number of illnesses can produce a non-productive cough in children. Illnesses that often cause a dry cough include asthma, when the dry cough usually appears at night and variations on asthma that worsens in cold temperatures. A non-productive cough also may indicate signs of croup, pneumonia or cystic fibrosis. Children under stress may develop a dry cough. Dry coughing also may indicate that something is stuck in your child's throat.


A non-productive cough often sounds more like barking, according to the the KidsHealth website. The upper respiratory system often becomes swollen or blocked. The larynx or trachea may become swollen as a side effect of a virus, which is particularly common in younger children under the age of 3 because their windpipes are so small. When a cough is accompanied by wheezing, that could indicate asthma or a blocked airway.


You should call a doctor if your child's cough lasts longer than three weeks, according to KidsHealth. Infants younger than 3 months should see a doctor if the dry cough lasts longer than a couple hours or if she has a fever with the cough. Get emergency care if your child cannot breathe or begins to cough up blood. Seek Immediate medical treatment if you child begins to turn blue or develops a dusky color on her lips or cheeks when coughing.


When a cough results from a viral infection, most children will heal naturally within about two weeks, especially when the cough is productive and produces phlegm or sputum. Primary treatment for a persistent dry cough depends on the diagnosis of the underlying condition. For example, an allergist may prescribe bronchial dilators if your child has asthma. According to Seattle Children's Hospital, over-the-counter cough medicines should not be given to children under 4 years old.

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