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When is it time to worry about the cough?

Written By Jennifer Shaer MD, FAAP, FABM, IBCL

CoughIt seems like kids cough all winter long. When is it time to worry about the cough? When can you treat it at home and when should you go to the doctor?

There are many causes of coughing in children. Most commonly, a cough is caused by a viral upper respiratory infection. However, coughs can also be caused by asthma, pneumonia, croup, bronchiolitis, whooping cough, sinusitis, allergies, reflux and even an inhaled foreign body. This article will review the …

Viral upper respiratory infections

This is the common cold. A cough from a cold will typically last two weeks. There is commonly some productive phlegm toward the end of a cold. Antibiotics do not help viral illness so it is best to let this type of cough run it’s course. It is common to have some fever with a viral upper respiratory infection for the first few days. However, you should visit the doctor if the fever lasts more than a few days. You should also be seen if the cough lasts more than a week or the fever comes back after having stopped.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Recently there has been a resurgence of pertussis. Pertussis will start off looking like the common cold. However, instead of getting better, the cough gets worse. Children with pertussis will cough many times in a row.

They will often lose their breath and take a big “whoop” breath at the end of a series of coughs. Babies with pertussis will sometimes stop breathing and turn blue. Pertussis is extremely dangerous to babies and is preventable by vaccine. It is important to make sure that your baby gets all his pertussis vaccines. In addition, we now give teenagers and adults a pertussis vaccine.

Asthma

A cough from asthma is usually not associated with a fever. Kids with asthma will cough more with exercise and at night. Asthma is usually triggered by a cold so children who have a history of wheezing should always see the doctor when they are coughing.

Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is when a viral upper respiratory infection moves into your baby’s chest and causes wheezing. Signs that your baby’s cold might be bronchiolitis include trouble nursing or taking a bottle, heavy or fast breathing and wet sounding cough. In general, babies with a cough should see the doctor.

To learn more about coughs, or any other medical conditions your child may be facing, visit HealthyChildren.org.

Dr. Shaer is a pediatrician and a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). She is director of the Breastfeeding Medicine Center of Allied Pediatrics of New York.

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