Cough is an extremely common problem for sick children. Coughing is the body’s way of clearing mucus and other secretions out of the lungs. To a certain extent, coughing is good for you. However, sometimes coughing may be a sign of a serious illness involving the lungs, such as pneumonia, whooping cough, or an asthma attack. If the cough is mild or infrequent and is associated with a runny nose or congestion, it may represent a common cold. There are some situations, however, when you should contact your pediatrician immediately. These include if your coughing child:
- Has noisy, rapid or difficult breathing (shallow breaths, shortness of breath)
- Has fever of 101 or greater
- Is sluggish or drowsy
- Is not drinking
- Has any bluish discoloration (lips, mouth, fingernails) or stops breathing
- Is vomiting due to excessive cough
- Has frequent cough and a history of lung disease
- Has a cough that you are concerned about for any reason
Special types of cough that should be evaluated by your pediatrician:
Children with whooping cough tend to have fits of coughing and have trouble catching their breath. They may even turn red in the face or stop breathing for several seconds. These symptoms should always be reported to your doctor.
A croupy cough is one that sounds like a barking dog or seal. it is usually seen in children under age 5, and can sometimes be relieved by breathing in cold air (like outside air on a cold night) or moisturized air (like in a steamy bathroom). Contact your doctor if these methods do not improve your child’s breathing or cough.
Most asthmatics cough at night even when they are otherwise healthy during the day, and they often cough after exercising or in cold weather. Any history of wheezing or any history of asthma in the family should be brought to your doctor’s attention.
When a child accidentally inhales a piece of food or a small toy into their lungs, they will often immediately begin coughing uncontrollably. Call an ambulance immediately in this situation.
Any child that has been coughing for more than 3 weeks should be seen by their pediatrician unless their cough seems to be improving. They may need antibiotics for a possible infection or an evaluation for certain lung diseases like asthma, bronchitis or cystic fibrosis.
Treating a cough:
Many over the counter medicines are ineffective at treating cough in children. We recommend consulting your pediatrician’s office before starting a cough medicine or when a cough medicine isn’t working.