Cough in Children – Causes, Diagnosis and Remedies

A little girl coughing

With the arrival of monsoons and the cold weather approaching soon, the chances of illnesses increase and so do general conditions that dawn upon us due to the changing weather. A dry cough in kids becomes quite prominent around this time, which might not be immediately noticed until it seems to stay for a few days or so. Although it may not always seem so, a cough is definitely a sign of the body reacting to a discomfort. Therefore, it is necessary to understand what caused a cough and take corrective action if needed.



What is Cough?

A cough is nothing but the body’s natural tendency to try and push out a foreign object or clear any obstruction that might be present in the pathways of the throat. This is why coughing often throws up various substances such as an infected mucus or lung infection that seeps out and needs to be removed from the body. In some cases, coughing might indicate the inability to breathe properly.





An occasional cough is usually present in many children. But when this repeats quite often, along with breathing issues, or coughing up gooey substances or even blood, that is a sign of trouble.

Types of Coughs

Each type of a cough that occurs in a child has a different sound and a different reason for occurring.




1. A Cough That Sounds Like A Bark

These generally occur due to a swelling of the upper portion of the airway. Any enlargement of the larynx or trachea can cause a cough to sound like a bark. This is usually observed in children that are less than 3 years old. It is also accompanied by a harsh sound when the child inhales.

2. A Cough With A Whooping Sound

Whooping cough in a child is usually a result of a bacterial infection. Bordetella pertussis is a potent bacteria that infects the airways and causes repeated phases of a cough that continue without breaks. Each a cough ends with inhaling a deep breath, which tends to make a sound that resembles a “whoop”. A blocked nose and fever can also be observed in these children. This cough is quite contagious and a child less than a year old can have severe repercussions because of it, especially if not vaccinated.





3. A Cough With A Wheezing Sound

At times, you might notice a slightly whistling or wheezing sound every time your child breathes. This sound is a strong indication of swelling in the lungs and might indicate the presence of a viral infection, such as bronchitis or even the presence of asthma. If this has been happening recently, check if the child has swallowed something accidentally, if that sound is also accompanied by a tendency to cough.

4. Coughing Especially At Night

Many types of coughs get severe as night arrives. This usually happens due to the trickling of mucus down the sinuses into the throat, causing a cough sensation. In other cases, the presence of asthma is stronger at night since the throat is more sensitive at that time.




5. Coughing In The Day

A number of parameters can cause a child to cough primarily in the day. This could range from cold wind or the presence of other irritants in the air, such as cigarette smoke, aerosols, animal hair, and so on.

6. A Cough Accompanied By Fever

If your child is suffering from a cough and is accompanied with a runny nose and a little fever, it is a classic sign of contracting common cold. However, if the kid is weak and the breathing is rapid, with fever above 102 degrees or so, this could even indicate pneumonia.





7. A Cough Accompanied With Vomiting

The coughing reflex can get quite strong in a child that can be out of their control. This constant coughing without breaking for breath, can invariably hit their gag reflex, and result in them puking. In certain illnesses, if a lot of mucus is swallowed by the child, it can cause nausea and lead to vomiting it all out.

8. Coughs That Continue For A Long Time

At times, certain infections can keep a cough to be present for more than a week. This is usually the case with viral infections, especially if followed by a common cold. The presence of any other allergens or an asthmatic condition can make a cough omnipresent. Get a doctor’s advice if a cough tends to stay for around a month or so.




What are the Causes of Cough in Children?

A little boy coughing

Just as there are various types of a cough, there are multiple reasons why a cough might occur in the first place.

1. Infection In The Chest Due To Cold

This is usually due to bacteria, which results in bronchiolitis. Usually spread from one child to another, it results in a wet cough that lasts for a few days. Such coughs are observed quite frequently in children, nearly once a month or once in two months.





2. Asthma

Usually seen in the night or early morning or after your kid has returned from playing, this cough is a strong sign of your child having asthma. A wheezing or allergic reaction might also accompany it, indicative of a triggering allergen, too.

3. Bronchiectasis

Letting a cough stay for longer than a month or so can be quite debilitating. The presence of wet cough in a child that leaves him coughing constantly could result in bronchiectasis, which ends up damaging the lungs due to repeated scarring of it while coughing.




4. Exposure To Smoke

Surprisingly, second-hand smoke is known to be a leading reason for children to start coughing. If you’re a smoker, it’s best to restrict your habits to outside your home and in your children’s absence. Make sure any visitors refrain from smoking in his vicinity, too.

5. Whooping Cough

It generally seems more like the advent of a common cold or influenza, but over time, the cough continues to get stronger and might even lead to phases of coughing spasms. These can continue for many weeks at a time.





6. Croup

A typical viral illness that leads to narrowing of the upper region of the airway, it often causes a cough to sound like a bark, further accompanied by raspy breathing. The inflamed pathways and larynx cause more mucus to be formed, narrowing the airway further.

How is a Cough Diagnosed during Childhood?

To evaluate the proper reason behind coughing, a proper physical examination and medical tests are considered essential for the diagnosis. Sending samples to the lab, checking X-ray slides for chest anomalies, are all checked along with the parameters of:




  • The presence of an unconscious motor condition that causes the child to cough without knowing it
  • The surroundings areas and the presence of any kind of pollutants or allergens.
  • Fever getting worse over the days, indicative of pneumonia or other diseases.
  • Previous events such as GERD due to feeding, leading to a cough.
  • The activities that are known to result in coughing, such as running around or playing a sport.
  • The presence of a foreign body inside the child, which could even be an aerosol.
  • The sound of a cough, checking for any barky or wheezy features.
  • The time for which a coughing spasm stays and the intensity of it.

Medical Treatment for Cough in Children

Choosing what to give kids for a cough depends a lot on the reason why a cough is occurring.

For any instances of infections that occur due to the presence of common cold, medications rarely cause any substantial effect. On the other hand, they can be quite harmful. Taking home remedies for this is the best way to recover from it.


If there is a swelling in the throat, especially the larynx, then a humidifier-based medicine can help relieve the inflammation. The croup can be countered by using a medicine called dexamethasone, which is known to be quite beneficial.

For throat-based infections that are caused by bacteria, namely the infection of the sinus tracts and the presence of pneumonia, your doctor will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics that can help combat the infections as soon as possible.

The wheezing sound is the sign of a discomfort in the airway. So this is usually done by giving medication that can be inhaled. However, if the wheezing is due to inhaling a foreign object, your doctor might advise undertaking a bronchoscopy to take it out.

A cough caused due to gastrointestinal reflux or GERD requires administering thick formula with oral medications that help in treating the acid reflux present right from the oesophagus. In rare conditions that result in a child from suffering cystic fibrosis, your doctor might advise a multi-layered approach that reduces the impact of the disease gradually.


Home Remedies to Deal with your Child’s Cough

A few cough remedies for kids at night and for any other coughing conditions can be quickly undertaken by using a bunch of techniques right at home, using elements that are readily available.

  • Make sure your child has enough intake of fluids. These are instrumental in thinning the mucus that stays deposited and provides some relief. Hot fluids are extremely beneficial in this regard and bring great relief in the chest and lungs.
  • Let your child inhale air that is humidified. The presence of water vapour in the air can reduce the chances of coughing frequently.
  • Make use of humidifiers in your child’s room if needed. While taking a bath, let hot water stay in a closed bathroom for some time before your child enters. It will fill it with water vapour increasing the humidity.
  • A dry or a croup cough can be deftly handled by letting your child inhale some cool air. The coughing usually occurs due to a swollen respiratory pathway. The cool air will help alleviate some of the swellings.
  • Let your child breathe fresh air from his window in such cases. Taking a small drive with the windows open can also help. Make sure your child avoids any exercise or strenuous activity until he recovers.
  • Opt for medication only if required and advised by the doctor. These are mostly available in the form of cough syrups that act on loosening the mucus. Other syrups act to mitigate the reflex of coughing, for dry coughs. But these should not be used for wet coughs at all.

When to Call the Doctor?

A doctor checking a little girl

Contact your doctor immediately if:

  • Your baby is barely 3 months old or is premature
  • Your child has immense difficulty in breathing
  • Your kid swallows a small object and coughs a lot even while eating
  • Your little one turns blue while coughing repetitively and fails to breathe properly
  • The coughing spasm of your child results in him vomiting
  • A cough stays for more than two weeks and gets severe

The sound of a cough can easily get irritating for parents and cause a lot of discomfort to a child who is used to playing around without any obstacles. Undertaking a few home remedies for dry cough in kids can bring some quick relief and aid in the speedy recovery of the child. Do not hesitate to contact your doctor in case of any complications or in deciding which medicine to opt for.

Also Read:


Homemade Cough Syrups for Kids
Home Remedies for Cough in Kids
Foods to Eat and Avoid during Cough in Children