Cough in Children

Cough in Children


It’s cold and flu season and most often cough accompanies these illnesses. Dr. Diane Holmes from Lurie Children’s Primary Care – Town & Country Pediatrics answers some common questions about coughs in children.

What causes a cough?

Many conditions can cause a cough, and these include:

  • a cold or respiratory virus
  • croup
  • bronchiolitis
  • allergies
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • reflux
  • a foreign body (like a coin)
  • and more!

If my child has a cough, how do we find the cause?

  • A thorough history
  • A comprehensive physical exam and
  • Additional tests, in some cases—for example, an X-Ray

What are different types of coughs and how do you tell them apart?

  • The sound of the cough is a clue, but it does not tell the whole story
  • In most cases, the history and physical exam are sufficient

When do I call my doctor about a cough?

You usually do NOT need to call your child’s doctor about a cough if s/he:

  • is not having difficulty breathing
  • does not have shortness of breath
  • has no fever
  • is sleeping at night and
  • is acting in his/her usual way

You need to call your child’s doctor when your child has these other symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing at chest level (not just nasal congestion)
  • Fever—especially a fever that lasts longer than 72 hours
  • Inability to drink or talk
  • Sleep disruption for more than a couple of nights
  • Mild coughs that last more than 4 weeks

My child seems to have a cold on a frequent basis, and this comes with coughing—is this normal?

Yes, a cold or respiratory virus often leads to coughing.

Young children can have a 12 colds a year; each cold can last two weeks or more. Sometimes two colds in quick succession can appear to be one long illness.

How do you treat a cough?

This depends on the cause. Unfortunately the most common cause of coughing in children in the winter is a respiratory virus, and nothing works well for this type of cough.  

You may get some relief with cough medicine containing honey (for infants over 12 months) and a humidifier.

For a nighttime cough, one anecdotal remedy, reported by many families, is VaporRub on a child’s feet-with socks on; this certainly will not harm the child!     

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