Cough Symptoms in Children

Topic Overview

A cough that is more noticeable when your child is lying down is usually caused by mucus running down the back of the throat (postnasal drip) from an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, sinusitis, or allergy. A child usually has a runny or stuffy nose, may be irritable, and may have a fever. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to provide relief for this type of cough.

A cough during the night that sounds like a barking seal may be a sign of croup. Your child may sound hoarse with a high-pitched sound (stridor) when breathing in. Home treatment may be all that is needed in most cases. But a barking cough that continues through the day or occurs with difficulty breathing can be more serious.

A child may cough in response to emotional issues (psychogenic cough). This type of cough is present without other symptoms.

Any cough in a baby younger than 3 months, even without other symptoms, needs to be taken seriously. If the cough occurs with a change in feeding habits or decreased activity level, your child needs to be evaluated by a health professional. If your child is acting normally in every other way, simply watch him or her closely for 24 hours.

A cough that is persistent, interrupts sleep, or slows your child down needs to be watched closely. A cough is more likely to be serious if it:

  • Occurs with difficulty breathing.
  • Is persistent, especially if it interferes with sleep or other daily activities.
  • Produces mucus that appears to be from the lungs (sputum) or brings up bloody sputum.
  • Persists after a choking episode. Vomiting may also occur.
  • Comes in spasms, especially if your child is unable to catch his or her breath.

A cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks is usually a sign of an allergy, sinus infection, asthma, or reflux. But it may mean a more serious problem. A visit to your child's doctor is needed when a cough is persistent.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
David Messenger, MD
Last Revised December 21, 2011

Last Revised: December 21, 2011

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