We are reviewing common causes of coughs for children in this months newsletter.
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- Coughs in children
- Causes and types of coughs in children
- Managing your child’s cough
- Could it be Covid?
Common causes of coughs for children
It is that time of year when children start arriving home from school with sore throats, sniffles,
and colds. We are receiving many enquiries from parents about seasonal illnesses in children
and hope this advice proves useful as we move into the winter months.
Our COVID-19 and children FAQs give you information and advice about COVID-19 and the
symptoms you should watch out for in children – but if (and hopefully when) their COVID-19
tests come back negative, it can be useful to understand a little more about what causes coughs
and colds during the winter, and what you can do to help.
Here’s what a cough might mean.
Coughs in children
We’ve all been there – having a cough is tough and can drain you of energy while making
everyday activities and tasks are more arduous and painful.
Children’s coughs are, for the most part, nothing to worry about and will go away on their own.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to understand where they come from and what causes
Causes and types of cough in children
There are several common causes associated with coughs in children, and the chances are that
your child’s cough will fall under one of the following categories.
Colds – Viral upper respiratory infections are the most common cause of coughs and
runny noses in children of all ages. The good news is that these coughs will settle by
themselves and usually do not need any treatment.
Seasonal allergies – Allergies can be displayed through all manner of different
symptoms. They generally do not often affect children until the age of 2-3 and will
display symptoms of itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose and often a cough,
congestion and sneezing.
Pneumonia – Pneumonia is often accompanied by a high fever. Symptoms in
children can be more subtle than in adults however it is important to be aware of any
changes in your child’s breathing and seek expert help.
Bronchiolitis – This is most commonly seen in very young children often caused by
RSV, Respiratory Syncytial Virus – a virus with symptoms similar to a common cold.
Asthma – A chronic condition diagnosed in 1 in 10 children. Asthma attacks can be
caused by a number of factors including exercise, cold air and even excitement, lead
to breathing difficulty and wheezing and need specific treatments including inhalers
and steroid medications.
Pertussis – Pertussis is often called whooping cough and is a highly contagious
illness which can be prevented through vaccination.
Croup – This often results in swelling in the upper airway which makes breathing
more difficult. Children can present with croup at any age however it is considerably
more common in children under the age of 5.
All of these causes are entirely treatable and can be quickly cleared up with the proper attention
and treatment. In most cases, your child’s cough will clear up on its own with a little TLC –
however, if the cough persists or starts to exacerbate other symptoms, we encourage you to get
Managing your child’s cough
When your child displays symptoms of a cough, it is important to make sure that they stay
hydrated, with pain relief sometimes helping to ease the dry and scratchy throat or the ache in
the chest which often comes hand in hand with a cough. Cough suppressants and over the
counter cough remedies are not recommended in children. There is some evidence that a
spoonful of honey before bedtime can help children with troublesome nighttime cough (only
for babies over 1 year of age). Treating the underlying cause of the cough is also very important
to see your paediatrician if you have any concerns.
Could it be COVID-19?
With COVID-19 still very much a part of our daily lives, it is possible that a cough could be a
symptom of your child has contracted the virus. The severity of COVID-19 varies on a case
by case basis with all patients, including children, but reassuringly most children are only mildly
affected. For more information on COVID-19 and children, please visit our FAQs page for full
When should I seek medical help?
It is important to seek advice from a paediatrician if your child’s cough is not settling, there is
a high fever or they appear unwell to you. If your child is displaying any of the following, this
indicates a more severe illness that needs urgent assessment.
- Your child has laboured breathing that is very rapid.
- Your child has difficulty breathing and/or you see their chest sinking in and out with each breath, called chest recession.
- Your child’s dry cough changes to sound like clicking, bubbling or rattling when your child inhales.
- Your child’s cough sounds like “barking” and is accompanied by a high-pitched sound when inhaling.
What to do next
For more information and guidance, or if you’re worried about the symptoms being displayed by
your child, please get in touch with us.
For more information about coughs in children and associated illnesses, visit our Conditions
page to find useful advice and guidance.
New advice articles from Childhealthy
We’re continuing our drive to give you access to the best advice at your fingertips. Our new
advice articles answer some of the most common questions we’re asked here at Childhealthy.
How to tell if your child has a urinary tract infection explains what UTI’s are, what causes them, how to treat them at home and the most common symptoms that may indicate your child has contracted one.
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help prevent this.
If there are any other topics or questions you’d like to see answered in our advice articles, then
do let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to include them.