Dry Versus Chesty Cough: What They Are and How To Help
9 min read
Coughing is an important reflex that helps us to clear our airways and you yourself have likely experienced a mild cough at various points in your life, whether to clear out a rogue piece of food or in response to the common cold.
Similarly, your little one may experience a cough from time to time in response to their surroundings. But did you know not all of them are the same? The two main types are chesty and dry coughs and each differ in their common causes and symptoms.
Regardless of whether your child’s cough is chesty or dry, your first port of call should be the doctor’s office. Your friendly GP can assess their individual condition and advise suitable care. If your child is under 2-years-old and develops a cough, take them to see a doctor immediately.
You may find it useful to keep the following information in mind during your appointment, particularly if you child experiences any of the common symptoms outlined below.
When your child comes down with a cough, it can be handy to be able to distinguish whether it is dry or chesty. This means that if you take your little one to the doctor, you can help them identify any potential underlying causes, address specific symptoms and try to provide relief.
Your child may describe a dry cough as feeling ticklish or scratchy. These are non-productive, meaning there is no mucous expelled. You might also notice that they sound raspy when they speak.
Conversely, a chesty cough is usually their body’s response to excess mucous production. This is why you may have heard people refer to chesty cough as either wet or productive (1).
Just as dry and chesty coughs differ in their symptoms, so too do they differ in potential causes.
A common cause of a chesty cough is the common cold. Colds often trigger the body to produce excess mucous, which might then be expelled by a ‘wet’ or ‘productive’ cough.
On the other hand, airborne irritants such as dust and smoke may be behind your little one’s dry cough.
Of course, the only way to know the cause is by taking a visit to the doctor’s office. Your GP will assess their individual condition and provide tailored advice accordingly. If your little one is younger than two years old and has developed a cough, talk to a health professional immediately (1).
Cough durations vary from child to child as each instance is unique to their individual condition. That’s why it’s important and useful to visit the doctor’s office as soon as your little one develops a cough.
If your GP indicates that it is caused by a common cold, it will likely be productive and more intense during the evening and nighttime. It may last longer than their other cold symptoms and usually subsides within three weeks.
As a parent, no one likes to see their little one feeling poorly. If the doctor has ruled out any underlying causes, you may like to help relieve their symptoms with the following tips:
1. Keep your child hydrated – Ensuring your child drinks adequate amounts of water can help to keep mucous thin, making it easier for it to be expelled with less effort. For dry coughs, it can help to lubricate an otherwise scratchy throat.
2. Avoid airborne irritants – Such as smoke, which may aggravate your little one’s cough further.
3. Try warm water or tea with honey – one or two teaspoons of honey mixed in with warm water or tea before bedtime may help to relieve a sore throat for children over 12 months of age. Do not to give honey to children younger than 12-months-old. Honey sometimes contains a type of bacteria called Clostridium botulinum bacteria. If ingested by children younger than 1-year-old, this type of bacteria produces a toxin that causes infant botulism. Botulism is a serious condition, therefore it is important that children under 12 months of age are not given honey.
4. Position your child comfortably – For older children, try positioning them upright in bed using pillows or by raising the head of the mattress (1, 3).
If in doubt, you should always seek advice from your doctor. This will allow for your GP to look over their condition and advise appropriate care. If your little one is under 2-years-old, take them to a doctor immediately if they develop a cough.
During your little one’s appointment, you may find it useful to discuss the symptoms explored in this article with your GP to help them determine the underlying cause.
If you’re looking for more information about your child and their immunity, you may also find the following useful:
1. Harvard Health Medical School. (2018). Cracking the Cough Code. Accessed 23 April 2020 < https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/cracking-the-cough-code >.
2. Health Direct Australia, (2020). Cough. [online] www.healthdirect.gov.au. Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cough [Accessed 24 Sep. 2020].
3. Raising Children Network. (n.d.). Cough. [online] Available at: https://raisingchildren.net.au/guides/a-z-health-reference/cough [Accessed 24 Sep. 2020].
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