What can cause a cough with no fever?

Coughing is a natural reflex which helps clear mucus and other irritants from the airways. Coughs may occur because of a simple discomfort in the throat, or they may develop as a response to an infection or inhalation of an alien.

This article describes the common causes of a feverless cough along with its related remedies. We also offer advice on home remedies and when to see a doctor.

Types of cough

Dry cough
An irritation in the throat may cause a person to cough.

Coughing is a normal reflex helping to remove mucus and other irritants from the airways.

There are two main cough types: productive, and non-productive.

Productive cough, or wet cough, produces mucus, while unproductive cough, or dry cough, does not produce mucus.

Coughs also vary according to frequency and duration.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute indicate that coughs can be:

  • Acute: Lasting 3 weeks or less.
  • Sub-Acute: Lasting 3-8 weeks and persisting after the infection that caused them has gone.
  • Chronic: Lasting longer than 8 weeks. This type can occur due to chronic respiratory conditions.

Causes

Below are some potential causes of a cough without a fever.

Common cold

Adults usually get two or three colds a year, and most of these occur because of a group of rhinovirus viruses.

Common cold can cause moderate to mild cough, usually without fever. Other possible symptoms of a cold include:

  • sneezing
  • stuffy nose
  • sore throat

Treatment

The common cold usually goes away within a week or two, without medical attention being required.

An individual can however take over-the-counter ( OTC) medicines to help relieve the symptoms.

GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease ( GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid and other contents of the stomach sometimes leak out of the stomach and into the esophagus again. The esophagus is the cord that links mouth and stomach together.

Acid reflux can irritate the esophagus lining and cause a cough.

Other possible symptoms include:

  • heartburn
  • pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • pain in the chest or upper abdomen
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • bad breath
  • erosion of tooth enamel

Treatment

The following lifestyle changes may help people to manage GERD:

  • quitting smoking
  • avoiding or limiting alcohol
  • avoiding overeating
  • avoiding eating within 2–3 hours of going to bed
  • avoiding eating greasy, fatty, or spicy foods that may trigger GERD
  • losing weight if necessary

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

Postnasal drip is where excess mucus builds up and trickles down the back of the throat towards the back of the sinuses. This trickling can irritate a person’s throat, causing cough.

Other possible symptoms of postnasal drip include:

  • sore throat
  • bad breath
  • nausea

Treatment

The following home treatments may help to alleviate the symptoms of postnasal drip:

  • keeping hydrated
  • using a humidifier or inhaling steam
  • using a nasal irrigator to flush out the sinuses

Treatment

Whooping cough requires antibiotic treatment.

Prompt treatment can help mitigate the seriousness of the disease and reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.

Post-infectious cough

In certain cases a person may experience a feverless cough after the initial infection has been resolved.

Inflammation has increased the development of mucus, and damage to the upper and lower airways can cause a post-infectious cough, according to one report from 2016.

After the following conditions a person can experience post-infectious cough:

  • Bronchitis: This is the medical term for inflammation of the airways. Bronchitis typically causes a productive cough, along with a low-grade fever. However, the cough can persist for several weeks after the fever has gone.
  • Whooping cough: This is a bacterial infection of the lungs and airways. The condition can cause violent coughing fits that cause a person to gasp for air. Whooping cough may also cause a low-grade fever, but this typically goes away long before the cough disappears. The cough may last for up to 10 weeks or more.
  • Croup: Croup is a type of respiratory infection that causes swelling of the windpipe or “trachea.” The initial symptoms of croup may include fever. As the condition progresses, the fever may diminish, but a “barking” cough and hoarseness may appear.

Treatment

Treatment for a post-infectious cough includes medication, such as:

  • antihistamines
  • decongestants
  • dextromethorphan, which is a cough suppressant

Causes in children

In children the cause of a feverless cough can be the same as in adults. Some triggers, however, are more common in children than in adults. Below we discuss a couple of the triggers.

Inhaled objects

Children can position objects in their mouth out of curiosity or experimentation, or to relieve teething discomfort. If an infant mistakenly inhales a small object, it can get stuck in the airways. That can result in coughing.

Coughing in some cases helps to dislodge the substance from airways of the infant.

In other cases the object can cause the airways to be completely blocked, resulting in choking. This is more of a medical emergency. A kid who suffocates won’t be able to cough, scream or breathe.

Treatment

The act of coughing will help to dislodge the substance if a child has inhaled a substance and is coughing.

But a child showing signs of choking may need emergency care to dislodge the object. The treatment will depend on the age of the person who is choking.

Children and adults over age 1 will need the Heimlich maneuver. Babies younger than 1 will need blows from the back and thrusts to the chest.

Nervousness or anxieties

Some kids may get their throats clear when they are nervous or anxious. Some people call it “habit cough.”

Treatment

The treatment for a habit cough may involve:

  • reassuring the child during times of stress or anxiety
  • distracting the child during a coughing episode
  • talking therapy to determine the cause of stress and anxiety

Diagnosis

When diagnosing the cause of a fever-free cough, a doctor will inquire about the symptoms a person experiences. They will also perform a physical examination, during which they may use a stethoscope to listen to any irregular lung sounds.

A doctor may also recommend other diagnostic procedures, including:

  • a chest X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan to check for fluid or abnormalities in the lungs
  • allergy tests to determine whether the cough is due to an undiagnosed allergy
  • a sputum test to check for the presence of infectious pathogens
  • blood tests to check for infections or inflammation

Home remedies

An acute cough may sometimes improve following home treatment, such as:

  • using a humidifier to keep the air moist
  • taking hot showers to help alleviate congestion and open the airways
  • drinking plenty of fluids, such as hot tea with honey to soothe irritation
  • getting plenty of rest to help the body fight an infection

Some people may also find relief by using OTC medications, such as:

  • cough syrups
  • throat lozenges
  • saline nasal sprays

Some medicines for cough and cold are not appropriate for babies. An individual can talk with their pharmacist or doctor about suitable options.

When to see a doctor

Coughs will improve within 3–4 weeks without any medical intervention. However, if a cough continues after 4 weeks a person can see a consultation with their doctor.

If any of the following symptoms accompany cough, a person should see their doctor as well:

  • increased mucus production
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • a bluish tint to the fingertips and lips
  • blood in the mucus that is dark and contains bits of food or what looks like coffee grounds

Summary

Coughing can happen for a number of different reasons. A cough that occurs without a fever may be due to a simple irritation in the throat, or inhalation of a foreign. It can be a symptom of an infection too.

Coughs arising from an infection are frequently accompanied by fever.

In some cases, however, people won’t catch a fever. Cough is a symptom, in many cases, that continues long after the initial fever has passed.

If after several weeks a person doesn’t see a difference in their cough, they should see a doctor for a diagnosis and proper care.

People may also seek medical treatment to treat symptoms, such as chest pain , shortness of breath, and increased development of mucus.

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