Coughs are very common in children. They are your body’s way of clearing the airway in the throat and chest. Most often, coughs are part of a minor viral illnesses and do not need a visit with a doctor. However, sometimes there can be more serious types of coughs that need to be seen by a doctor such as:

  • “Barking” coughs: usually a sign of an infection called croup. Sometimes this can also be associated with noisy and difficulty breathing.
  • “Whooping” cough: refers to the whooping noise a child makes after a series of coughs. It is usually caused by the bacterial infection pertussis, especially in children without full vaccination. In infants pertussis can be very serious
  • Cough with wheezing: can be a sign of asthma, where it is hard for your child to move air through the airways in their lung.
  • Persistent cough: coughs from colds can last up to 3 weeks. If your child has a cough that has been lasting longer than that, they should be seen by a doctor.

For the coughs caused by a cold, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using cough medicines that contain codeine or dextromethorphan as they can have dangerous side effects. Humidifiers and honey can sometimes help reduce the urge to cough. Cool beverages can help soothe a throat that is sore from coughing.

Common questions


What are common types of coughs in children and when should I be concerned?

Common types of coughs in children include "barking" coughs (often a sign of croup), "whooping" coughs (usually caused by pertussis, especially in unvaccinated children), and coughs with wheezing (which can be a sign of asthma). You should be concerned and seek medical attention if the cough is persistent, associated with difficulty breathing, or if your child also develops a fever.

How can I safely treat my child's cough at home?

For coughs caused by a cold, home remedies can be effective. These include using a humidifier to moisten the air, offering plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and using honey (for children over 1 year) to soothe the throat and reduce coughing. Avoid over-the-counter cough medicines containing codeine or dextromethorphan, especially in children under 4, due to potential side effects.

When should I take my child to a doctor for a cough?

Take your child to a doctor if the cough lasts longer than a few weeks, is severe or worsening, is accompanied by high fever, difficulty breathing, or if you suspect whooping cough or croup. Also, seek medical advice if the cough is causing your child significant discomfort or interfering with their sleep.

Can coughs in children be prevented?

While not all coughs can be prevented, you can reduce the risk of coughs caused by infections by ensuring good hygiene practices, such as regular hand washing, and keeping your child up to date with vaccinations. Also, avoid exposing your child to irritants like tobacco smoke.

Are there any risks associated with cough medicines in children?

Yes, there are risks associated with certain cough medicines in children. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines can cause serious harm, especially in young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against the use of these medicines in children under four years of age. For children aged 4 to 6 years, use cough medicine only if recommended by your child's doctor.

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