Coughs are one of the most common symptoms that children get due to an illness. Although parents may normally be concerned, coughing is actually a reflex that helps clear the lungs, and upper airway passages of foreign materials or mucus. A child’s cough may vary depending on its underlying cause, and it may help if you understand the different types of cough, so you will know how to respond to your child’s symptoms.
1. Cough with a Cold
Coughs due to colds may be associated with other symptoms like mild fever, and runny nose. This type of cough may last one week, usually after all other symptoms have disappeared.
2. Daytime Cough
Daytime coughs are usually due to allergies, asthma, and other respiratory infections. It may also be aggravated by cold air, and certain physical activities. Try to check what triggers your child to have these daytime coughs, and make changes as necessary.
3. Nighttime Cough
When lying down, congestion from a child’s nose and sinuses drain down the throat, which then leads to irritation. If your child has asthma, his airways may be more sensitive and irritable at night, which also causes nighttime coughs.
4. Barking Cough
When the upper part of airway is swollen, a child would usually manifest a barking cough, which may be comparable to the sound of a seal. This is a characteristic symptom of croup, and it may be accompanied with noisy and harsh breathing called stridor. Croup is usually caused by a virus, but it may also be due to allergies or temperature changes at night. Children under 3 years old are particularly at risk because of their narrow windpipes.
The symptoms of croup are usually managed at home. The air needs to be humidified so that swelling in the windpipe can be reduced. Try to comfort your child because crying can only worsen the symptoms. If symptoms are severe, a visit to the doctor or to the emergency department may be necessary.
5. Whooping Cough
Whooping cough or pertussis is a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing spells. The hallmark “whooping” sound can be appreciated after a cough, when a child tries to draw in the next breath. Coughing spells can be so hard, that some children may vomit after an episode. Other symptoms of pertussis are runny nose, low grade fever, and sneezing.
Make sure that your child is up to date with his vaccinations. It is usually given in combination with the vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus. This is vital because pertussis can be severe in children under one year old. If you think that your child has similar symptoms, call your health care provider right away. When antibiotics are started early, the duration of the illness can be shortened, and it also prevents the spread of infection.
6. Persistent Cough
Coughs that are caused by allergies, asthma and other chronic sinus infections can last weeks. Even coughs due to colds can go on prolonged periods, especially when a child gets colds one after the other. Call your health care provider if your child’s cough lasts longer than 3 weeks, or when you notice that his symptoms have gotten worse.
7. Cough with Wheezing
Wheezing is whistling sound heard upon expiration, or when a child breathes out. This is an indication that there is something blocking the lower airway. It may either be caused by asthma, bronchiolitis, or pneumonia. It may also be caused by a foreign object stuck in the airway. Children with these symptoms are usually given medications like an inhaler or nebulizer. If your child is not relieved with the prescribed medication, or if this is the first time that you noticed these symptoms in your child, contact your doctor.
8. Cough with Fever
If your child’s cough is accompanied by high grade fever, call your doctor. This is important especially when you notice that your child is breathing rapidly, or when he seems weak. These may already be symptoms of pneumonia, and your child needs to see a doctor so that proper treatment can be started.
Children can get coughs from time to time, and although many of these may not be alarming, parents still need to be alert for signs like difficulty in breathing, or changes in a child’s facial color. These symptoms, together with any other unusual symptoms you may notice, need to be reported to your physician.