Children can be affected by many different types of coughs as symptoms of various illnesses. Most of the time, a cough is not a sign of anything serious and can be managed at home. However, a cough can also be a sign of a serious condition such as pneumonia that requires a doctor’s evaluation.
What Are Wet Coughs and Dry Coughs?
Wet vs dry cough refers to two different ways of categorizing them. A wet cough produces phlegm or mucus and usually occurs with a bacterial or viral illness, the latter of which includes influenza and the common cold. A dry cough does not produce any mucus or phlegm, or negligible amounts at best, which is why it is also called an unproductive cough. It is more likely to occur due to asthma or allergies.
Neither a wet cough nor a dry cough is inherently more serious than the other. Whether your child’s condition may be serious depends on if the cough is accompanied by other symptoms, such as high fever, fatigue, irritability, trouble breathing, or progressive worsening. It is also a troubling sign if the cough persists for more than two to three weeks. Nevertheless, if you feel that something may be seriously wrong, it never hurts to call your doctor to ask if your child’s cough is something you need to worry about.
How Do They Sound?
A productive cough has a “wet” sound as the mucus and phlegm move around in your child’s respiratory tract. It is difficult to describe but is a quality you probably recognize immediately if you hear it. Nevertheless, most people recognize a wet cough less because of its sound than by the phlegm it produces. A dry cough is recognized primarily by its hacking quality. Because there is little mucus shifting in the airways, it has a more consistent quality to its tone.
Dry coughs and wet coughs are two of the most common categorizations, but they are not the only types of cough your child may develop. Listen for a bark like a seal or a high-pitched whistling or wheezing sound. These may indicate croup or pneumonia. If your child has not yet been immunized against pertussis, perhaps because he or she is too young, check if he or she makes a “whooping” noise during deep inhalation. If so, call your doctor immediately.
Asking Them How They Feel
If your child is old enough to verbally describe his or her feelings, ask your child to explain the sensations that he or she is experiencing. If your child describes a tickle in his or her throat, it is more likely a dry cough. If your child describes a sensation of fluid running down his or her throat, this is probably postnasal drip, which occurs when excess mucus flows from the sinus down the throat into the upper airways. Postnasal drip could be the cause of your child’s wet cough or at least a contributing factor.
Cough control medicine may help reduce your child’s symptoms and help him or her feel better. Choose medicine that has been proven effective at symptom reduction in clinical tests.