Your Child Has a Cough: When to Worry

Coughs are the number one symptom of childhood illnesses.

Although a cough may sound “nasty” and “horrible,” often, a cough is not a sign of something serious.

Did you know a cough can be a healthy reflex?  It protects the airway.  This is usually why a cough suppressant isn’t recommended for your child.  Remember, no cough medication is recommended for children under 6 years of age.

There are many reasons for a cough:

  • Viral infections
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Irritation from the environment (smoke, dust, etc)
  • Reflux (GERD)
  • Foreign body
  • Sinusitis or postnasal drainage
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Croup, etc

Treatment for a cough depends on the cause of the cough.  Most of the time, coughs are viral and take time to go away.  I usually recommend a cool mist humidifier, lots of fluids, a teaspoon of honey (over 12 months old), and a tincture of time (as well as lots of cuddles and love!).

However, if the cough has been ongoing (for more than 3 weeks), is accompanied by a fever (especially in the absence of a runny nose or nasal congestion OR if the fever starts in the middle of the sickness), or if your child has signs of dehydration, it’s best to get evaluated by your child’s pediatric healthcare provider.  Of course, if you’re concerned, that’s a good enough reason for evaluation, too!

When to Worry

Your child should be evaluated immediately if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Trouble breathing or if they are breathing faster than normal
  • Lips have a blue or dusky color
  • Coughing up blood
  • Cough makes a “whooping sound”
  • Wheezing (unless already diagnosed with asthma and has an asthma action plan)
  • Irritable and “lethargic”
  • Less than 3 months old and have a fever of >100.4F

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