Useful Tips

How to understand that it’s time to consult a doctor about a cough


This article is co-written by Marsha Durkin, RN. Marsha Derkin is a registered Wisconsin nurse. She received a nursing degree from Olney Central College in 1987.

The number of sources used in this article is 16. You will find a list of them at the bottom of the page.

Cough is the result of the reaction of receptors to inflammation, mechanical, chemical and thermal effects. Inflammation, infection, certain illnesses, inhalation of particles of foreign bodies, cramping in the bronchi, chemicals, including fumes and cigarette smoke, can cause coughing. A cough often accompanies a cold and can be cured at home, but sometimes a cough indicates serious health problems that a doctor should deal with. Side effects of coughing should also be treated. If you are not sure if your cough is dangerous, from this article you will find out when to see a doctor.

1. Wet cough

What does it mean? Mucus at night flows down the back of the throat (postnasal numbness) and, most likely, this is all accompanied by a runny nose.

Likely cause: infection (e.g. colds, sinusitis, pneumonia) or allergies. How to treat? Use nasal drops with seawater and drink plenty of fluids to reduce mucus. Foods that you consume daily (milk, yoghurts, and the like) can only aggravate the situation, thickening the mucus. Limit their use despite the fact that young children need to drink milk every day. If the child’s temperature rises with this cough, call a doctor to rule out a more serious illness.

2. Dry and hoarse cough

What does it mean? Your child’s airways are irritated.

Likely cause: infection, allergen, or other irritants, such as dust, pollen, or smoke, causing this reaction.

How to treat? Soften it as you would with a wet cough: drip drops based on sea water into your nose and drink plenty of fluids. If you suspect that coughing is allergic, limit your child to exposure to sources of allergens. See a doctor.

3. Strong, barking cough

What does it mean? Your child’s airways are sore or tight.

Likely cause: a viral infection that makes the child worse at night.

How to treat? The first option: put the child on a chair in the bathroom, turn on the hot water. Let the child breathe warm air for 15-20 minutes. The second option: go with the child to fresh air for a while. If in both cases there are problems with breathing, consult a doctor.

4. Cough accompanied by wheezing

What does it mean? Your child has mucus in his airways. She makes breathing difficult.

Likely cause: asthma or capillary bronchitis, an infection in the lungs that sometimes occurs in children under 3 years old.

How to treat? See your doctor to determine the cause of this kind of cough. If the child has an infection, you will most likely have to take antibiotics.

5. Severe cough, followed by a few cries

What does it mean? Your child seems to “clear his throat” with all the air from his lungs, and then inhales it.

Likely cause: whooping cough, bacterial infection.

How to treat? Call your doctor right away. He can prescribe antibiotics to the child, but they will not reduce the time of the baby’s illness, but only allow him not to spread the infection. Such a cough can be caused by a dangerous childhood infection.

When to call a doctor?

Most varieties of baby cough are not dangerous. However, if your child has these symptoms, consult your doctor:

- face, tongue and lips darkened

- the temperature has risen (especially if the child is coughing, but there is no runny nose)

- there is a temperature and the baby is less than 3 months old

- the baby coughs for several hours

- the child makes a loud sound when inhaled after coughing

- when exhaling there is a whistle

Cough Facts

Night cough. Cough usually worsens at night. The respiratory tract at this time of day is more irritable and sensitive.

Daytime cough. Cold air and all kinds of activities can increase coughing during the daytime. Make sure that there are no pets, air freshener or dust in the apartment or in the children's room.

Coughing at fever. Most likely, if a child coughs and has a runny nose, it is a cold. But sometimes coughing can be caused by pneumonia, especially if the child’s breathing becomes more frequent.

Cough with vomiting. Very often, children cough so hard that they vomit. No need to worry so much if vomiting does not stop.

Home remedies

Children from one year old can be given a teaspoon of honey. Honey soothes the throat and weakens the cough.

Keep your child drinking plenty of fluids. This will ease coughing and help your nose breathe.

Place a second pillow under the baby’s head. So his head will be raised, and he will cough less at night.