child has a cough as a doctor looks on

General Health & Wellness • Oct 05, 2021

Cough it Up: When to Worry About Your Kid’s Cough

What is a cough?

A cough is a natural response of the body to clear the airway of an irritant, foreign particle, or mucus. Exposure to an irritant, allergies, acid reflux, respiratory infections – viral or bacterial, and other respiratory conditions can cause a cough. A detailed description of the cough can help you and your medical provider explore its origin.

  • How long has the cough been going on?
  • Is it dry or wet sounding?
  • Does it have a loud or barky sound?
  • Is it persistent or intermittent?
  • Does it wake your child from sleep?
  • Does it happen with exercise?
  • What makes it worse?
  • What makes it better?
  • Are there other symptoms associated?

What can you do?

Understanding the underlying cause of the cough is important to decide the best course of action. Most of the time, it is related to a simple viral infection. Here are a few tips on simple steps you can take at home to help your child feel better:

  • Make sure that your child is well hydrated and drinking plenty of water.
  • Use a saline nasal spray to clear the nose.
  • Give your child warm fluids to soothe the throat. I use honey and lemon tea on my children (don’t use in children < 1-year-old).
  • You can use cough drops on older children that are not at risk of choking (>4-5 years old).
  • Try a humidifier at night. Careful to use distilled water and clean the device well.
  • Over-the-counter cough medications have not been proven to help, and some of them may have dangerous substances in them. Always consult with your medical provider first.

When should you seek medical attention?

Here are a few tips on when you should reach out:

  • Cough associated with fever that does not improve after medication.
  • Persistent coughing after a choking event.
  • Persistent vomiting.
  • Noisy breathing or whistling in the chest.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing/talking.
  • Changes in skin color when coughing.
  • Blood when coughing.
  • Cough present for more than two weeks.
  • It persistently interrupts sleep or normal daily activities.

Please know that you can always reach out to your child’s pediatrician. Always trust your instincts!