Coughing is a natural reflex that helps 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 the inhalation of a foreign object.

A cough can occur alongside other symptoms, such as fever. However, this is not always the case.

This article outlines the various causes of a cough without a fever, along with their associated treatments. It also provides advice on home remedies and when to see a doctor.

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Coughing is a natural reflex that helps clear the airways of mucus and other irritants.

There are two basic types of cough: productive and nonproductive. Productive coughs, or wet coughs, produce mucus, whereas nonproductive coughs, or dry coughs, do not.

Coughs can also differ in severity and duration. The general medical consensus is that there are three categories of cough. These are:

  • Acute: These coughs last 3 weeks or less.
  • Sub-Acute: These last 3–8 weeks and persist after the infection that caused them has gone.
  • Chronic: These last longer than 8 weeks. They can occur due to chronic respiratory conditions.

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

Common cold

Adults typically get two or three colds a year, and most of these occur due to a group of viruses called rhinoviruses.

The common cold may cause a mild to moderate cough, usually without a fever. Other possible symptoms of a cold include:

Treatment

The common cold usually goes away within 1–2 weeks without the need for medical treatment.

However, a person can take over-the-counter (OTC) medications to help alleviate the symptoms.

Learn more about how to treat a cold.

GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which acid and other 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:

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

Treatment

People may find that certain lifestyle adjustments help them manage GERD. These may include:

  • quitting smoking
  • avoiding or limiting alcohol
  • avoiding overeating
  • refraining from eating within 3 hours of going to bed
  • avoiding eating greasy, fatty, or spicy foods that may trigger GERD
  • reaching or maintaining a moderate weight

If lifestyle changes do not lead to an improvement in GERD, a person may require OTC or prescription medications.

Learn more about treatment for GERD.

Postnasal drip

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:

  • sore throat
  • bad breath
  • nausea

Treatment

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

Learn more about the treatment for postnasal drip.

Post-infectious cough

In some cases, a person can experience a cough without fever after the initial infection has resolved.

According to a 2016 article, inflammation increases mucus production, and damage to the upper and lower airways can cause a post-infectious cough.

People may experience a post-infectious cough after the following conditions:

  • 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 10 weeks or more.
  • Croup: Croup is a type of respiratory infection that causes swelling of the trachea, or windpipe. 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

The treatment for a post-infectious cough is typically medication, with the options including:

The causes 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. They include:

Inhaled objects

Children may put objects in their mouths 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 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.

Treatment

If a child has inhaled an object and is coughing, the act of coughing should help dislodge the object.

However, a child who is showing signs of choking will require emergency treatment. The treatment will depend on the age of the person who is choking.

Adults and children over 1 year of age will require abdominal thrusts. Babies younger than 1 year will require rescue back blows and chest thrusts.

Nervousness or anxieties

Some children may clear their throat when nervous or anxious. Some people refer to this as a “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
  • using talking therapy to determine the cause of stress or anxiety

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about a cough with no fever.

What are some home remedies for treating a cough?

An acute cough may sometimes improve with the use of at-home strategies, 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

Certain cough and cold medications are not suitable for children. A person can discuss appropriate options with a pharmacist or doctor.

How do doctors diagnose the cause of a cough?

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:

  • a chest X-ray or 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 an infection or inflammation

Coughs should improve without medical intervention in 3–4 weeks. However, if a cough persists beyond 4 weeks, a person should consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

A person should also speak with a doctor if any of the following symptoms accompany their cough:

  • 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

Coughing can occur for many different reasons. A cough that occurs without a fever may be due to irritation in the throat or the inhalation of a foreign object.

If a person does not notice an improvement in their cough after several weeks, they should consult a doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

People should seek medical attention at an earlier stage if they have accompanying symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and increased mucus production.