What to do if your child has a nagging cough

Coughing is your child’s body’s way of getting rid of an irritant and is often a symptom of an illness or condition.

 Did you know that coughs in children are most commonly due to post nasal drip?

With so many different types of childhood coughs, it can be tricky knowing which cough your child has, and how to treat it.

Different coughs explained

A cough is often “wet” or “dry”.

A wet cough, also called a productive cough, is a cough that typically brings up mucus, while a dry cough is a cough that doesn’t bring up mucus.

With a dry cough, your child may complain of a tickle in the back of their throat triggering their cough reflex, giving them hacking coughs. Dry cough can be dangerous as it is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19.

Other telltale signs of COVID-19, especially if your child also presents with fever and shortness of breath.

Sometimes, other conditions can cause coughs in children. We take a look at some of the most common causes…


The Greek word ‘asthma’ literally means panting, a very accurate description of how asthmatics often breathe. This is because the bronchial tubes either go into spasm or their mucous membranes swell, narrowing the space for airflow. Common triggers for this painful, frightening, and potentially life-threatening condition are allergies, stress, heart disease and occasionally it occurs in children, due to occlusion of the larynx, possibly resulting from an enlargement of the thymus gland.

Asthma in children mostly does not start until between 2 and 3 years, although younger babies will mostly have wheezy chests and frequent respiratory infections or excess mucus. The cough is mostly tight, dry, and painful. Children often outgrow asthma in adolescence, but it is a serious disease and you should never attempt to treat it single-handedly or simply stop medication without your doctor’s guidance.


Croup is inflammation of the vocal cords with swelling around the throat and airway area, resulting in difficult breathing (often wheezing is heard and the baby goes blue around the mouth). It may be a serious condition.

Sometimes it is accompanied by a dry, hacking cough that sounds like a bark and at other times, a loose, mucusy cough. Symptoms are usually worse at night and in winter, and your baby may or may not have a fever. This condition may respond well to self-treatment, but it is not to be taken lightly and a medical practitioner must preferably be consulted.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough is one of the infectious childhood diseases for which immunisation is given. The Anglo-Saxon word ‘hwopan’ literally means ‘to threaten’. The terror on a child’s face as an attack is about to begin tells of the serious and uncomfortable nature of this acute disease.

Children who have been immunised against whooping cough are not totally protected against it and may suffer its symptoms for more protracted periods than others, if less severely so. It usually starts with cold-like symptoms for up to a fortnight. This is followed by a violent coughing stage.

Each paroxysm of short, sharp, painful coughs is followed by a long involuntary intake of breath – and this gives rise to the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound, due to the spasm of the deep throat (larynx) area. This coughing stage can last for several weeks, and then a gradual decline in severity and frequency of coughing occurs.

Try natural remedies

Before heading to the doctor, establish what type of cough your child has.

You can try the natural route with these salt remedies:

  • Clear, frothy, profuse watery mucus: Give your child Nat Mur.
  • Thick, white-to-grey sluggish mucus: Give your child Kali Mur.
  • Yellow, sticky, slimy, elastic mucus: Give your child Kali Sulph.
  • Green, lumpy mucus: Give your child Calc Sulph.

When to call the doctor

If your little one does not improve soon with self-help tips or the cough develops into something more serious, see your doctor as soon as possible.

The following seven symptoms must immediately be reported to the doctor:

  1. Going blue or very pale around the lips or the lips themselves
  2. Blue fingernails
  3. Difficult breathing with abdomen sucked in with the effort
  4. Terror or distress on your child’s face with breathing or coughing
  5. If you suspect a serious allergic reaction to a dietary or environmental factor
  6. If your child has choked and you cannot dislodge any occluding object
  7. If your child vomits with or after coughing