Does your child have a wet or dry cough? Listen for wheezing, hacking, or barking first, then read on to learn more about coughs in children.

Common causes of coughs in children
 Childhood coughs can be annoying, and occasionally they can be a sign of more concerning problems.

Coughs in children might imply various things, and it’s not always easy to know if a trip to the doctor may be necessary, especially for young children. 

According to Howard Balbi, an expert in paediatric infectious diseases, coughs are the body’s way of protecting itself. Coughing (in the absence of food lodged in the throat) helps keep the airway free by clearing the throat of phlegm and postnasal drip (nasal mucus that drops down the back of the throat).

Types of coughs in children, toddlers, and babies

Coughs fall into two categories: dry cough and wet cough.

Dry Cough: This is caused by a cold or allergies. A dry cough aids in the removal of postnasal drip or irritation from a sore throat.

Wet Cough: This is caused by a respiratory disease associated with a bacterial infection. A wet cough causes phlegm or mucus to build in the airways (which contain white blood cells to help fight viruses).

Children under the age of four months don’t get a cough very often, but if they do, it could indicate a virus or bacterial infection. Coughs are less concerning beyond the age of one, and they frequently indicate nothing more than a simple cold.


Four common causes of childhood coughs


Croup, which is usually caused by a viral illness, causes the tracheal lining to enlarge and close, making it difficult for your child to breathe.

The most striking croup cough symptom is a seal-like barking sound, which is often worse at night while your child is trying to sleep.

Croup usually affects children under the age of five, and it generally starts with a common cold or sniffle earlier in the day. Croup should clear up in three or four days; if it doesn’t, call your child’s doctor.

Although you may be tempted to give your child cough medicine or cough syrup, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against doing so for children under the age of six because studies have shown that they do not work and can have potentially dangerous side effects in children under the age of four. 

Natural infant cough therapies such as honey (for babies over a year), saline drops, and a cool-mist humidifier are preferable. Acetaminophen is safe to take to decrease a fever.



Children normally have mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, but they can potentially develop a wide range of side symptoms, including cough. Symptoms usually occur within 2-14 days following viral contact and resemble a cold or flu.

COVID-19 symptoms vary greatly. In addition to coughing, children may experience fever, runny nose, shortness of breath, decreased feeding, behavioural changes, vomiting, diarrhoea, or other symptoms. COVID can cause serious disease that necessitates hospitalisation in rare circumstances.

If you suspect COVID-19, contact your child’s doctor; they may advise you to have your child tested. If they have the coronavirus, keep them (and their primary caregiver) separate from the rest of the family. Seek medical help for concerning symptoms, such as breathing or feeding difficulties, blueish lips, dehydration, or an inability to wake.


The vast majority of cases of bronchiolitis in babies under age one are caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). 

Bronchiolitis appears following a common cold, with coughing and a runny nose and may be accompanied by a minor temperature and loss of appetite.

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. In nearly all cases, antibiotics should not be used to treat acute bronchitis. That’s because viruses cause most bronchitis infections.

Allergies or sinusitis 

Seasonal allergies, which are often prevalent during Spring, can cause a lingering cough, an itchy throat, runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat, or rash in children. 

Symptoms of allergies often include a stuffy nose, sneezing, itching, and asthma-like symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

Talk to your child’s doctor about allergy tests to find out which allergens cause the problem, and ask for advice on how to avoid that allergen. Allergens can include food, pollen, pet dander, and dust. Your doctor may also recommend allergy medication or allergy shots.

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