Coughing is the body's way of removing foreign material or mucus from the lungs and upper airway passages or of reacting to an irritated airway.
Coughs have certain traits you can learn to recognize. A cough is only a symptom, not a disease. Often, you can't tell how serious the problem is until you also look at your child's other symptoms.
A productive cough produces phlegm or mucus (sputum). The mucus may have drained down the back of the throat from the nose or sinuses. Or it may have come up from the lungs. In most cases, you shouldn't suppress a productive cough. The cough clears mucus from the lungs. There are many causes of a productive cough, such as:
A nonproductive cough is dry. It doesn't produce sputum. A dry, hacking cough may occur toward the end of a cold or after exposure to an irritant, such as dust or smoke. There are many causes of a nonproductive cough. They include:
Children may have coughs from diseases or causes that usually don't affect adults, such as:
Many coughs are caused by a viral illness. Antibiotics aren't used to treat viral illnesses. They don't change the course of viral infections. Using an antibiotic when it's not needed exposes your child to the risks of an allergic reaction and antibiotic side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics also may kill helpful bacteria and encourage the growth of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing in a baby or young child can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
You can use a small rubber bulb (called an aspirating bulb) to remove mucus from your baby's nose or mouth when a cold or allergies make it hard for the baby to eat, sleep, or breathe.
To use the bulb:
Don't do this more than 5 or 6 times a day. Doing it too often can make the congestion worse and can also cause the lining of the nose to swell or bleed.
If you're not sure if a child's fever is high, moderate, or mild, think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
A baby that is extremely sick:
A baby that is sick (but not extremely sick):
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it. For children up to 11 years old, here are the ranges for high, moderate, and mild according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth), ear, or rectal temperature
A forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5° F (0.3° C) to 1° F (0.6° C) lower than an oral temperature.
Armpit (axillary) temperature
Note: For children under 5 years old, rectal temperatures are the most accurate.
Symptoms of serious illness in a baby may include the following:
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
Sudden drooling and trouble swallowing can be signs of a serious problem called epiglottitis. This problem can happen at any age.
The epiglottis is a flap of tissue at the back of the throat that you can't see when you look in the mouth. When you swallow, it closes to keep food and fluids out of the tube (trachea) that leads to the lungs. If the epiglottis becomes inflamed or infected, it can swell and quickly block the airway. This makes it very hard to breathe.
The symptoms start suddenly. A person with epiglottitis is likely to seem very sick, have a fever, drool, and have trouble breathing, swallowing, and making sounds. In the case of a child, you may notice the child trying to sit up and lean forward with his or her jaw forward, because it's easier to breathe in this position.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Coughing is the body's way of removing foreign substances and mucus from the lungs and upper airway passages. Productive coughs are often useful. Don't try to stop a productive cough. Sometimes, though, coughs are severe enough to impair breathing or prevent rest. Here are some things you can do at home to help your child feel more comfortable when they have a cough.
Fluids may help soothe an irritated throat. Honey or lemon juice in warm water or tea may help a dry, hacking cough. But don't give honey to children younger than 1 year of age. It may contain bacteria that are harmful to babies.
Children who can gargle can try gargling with warm salt water to help ease a sore throat caused by coughing.
Try a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the room. Warm or cool mist may help relieve symptoms. Follow all cleaning instructions and precautions for the machine.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
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