Children cough for a variety of reasons. It's one of the most common reasons to visit a doctor's office.
The appropriate treatment for a child with a cough largely depends on the cause but may include home remedies such as fluids, honey, saline, or nasal suction; over the counter medicines (though these should not be used in children under 4 years of age without discussing it with a healthcare professional, or prescription medication).
Common causes of cough in children
- Viruses: By far the most common cause of cough in children is mucous draining backwards down the throat from an upper respiratory virus. Viruses can also cause lower airway infections (pneumonia).
- Bacteria: Bacterial causes of cough, particularly sinus infections and pneumonia, are uncommon in preschool age children. Antibiotics are typically needed for bacterial causes of cough.
- Allergies: Seasonal allergy symptoms can definitely cause cough. Seasonal allergies are less common in children before about age 2-3yo as it takes a couple seasons of exposure typically to develop allergies.
- Asthma: Asthma is a condition marked by inflammation of the airways in the lungs, increased production of mucous in the lungs, and spasm (narrowing) of the airways. It is more common in children with family or personal history of asthma, allergies, and/or eczema. Asthma is usually treated with a combination of inhaled medicines.
Signs your child needs to see a medical professional
- Cough for more than 2-3 weeks and well appearing
- Any noisy, heavy, fast, or labored breathing
- Your child looks unwell or has low energy
- Fever for more than 48 hours (on and off) with a cough
- Noisy breath in after a coughing fit (may indicate whooping cough)
- Any time you're worried