Coughing in children is one of the most common reasons why parents administer medication or seek medical consultation.
Although parents often struggle with their children’s cough, it is an important reflex that helps clear the respiratory passages of mucus, dust particles, or other impurities. For this reason, a healthy child may cough throughout the day, especially in densely populated urban areas with polluted air.
The most common cause of coughing is a respiratory infection, which is usually of viral origin in pediatric age. These episodes of viral respiratory infections, although common during the preschool years, have a mild course and do not pose a danger to the child.
Dry cough is the initial presentation of a viral respiratory infection and becomes more productive after 2-3 days. The cough after each respiratory infection episode can last up to 3-4 weeks. In such cases, treatment for the cough is not recommended, and most remedies used often do more harm than good for the child.
Croup cough, a distinctive barking cough associated with viral laryngotracheitis, should be closely monitored as it can lead to airway blockage and rapid worsening of the child’s condition. If noisy breathing on inhalation (stridor) is also present, urgent medical attention is necessary.
Cough with wheezing during exhalation may be caused by a viral infection complicated by airway obstruction (narrowing of the bronchial tubes) or bronchial asthma. To obtain a correct diagnosis and treatment, the child should be examined by a doctor.
Bacterial respiratory infections are much rarer in childhood and often occur as a complication of viral infections. A child suspected of having a bacterial respiratory infection will have a productive (wet) cough, frequent breathing problems, and general discomfort. In such situations, the child should be urgently evaluated by a doctor.
Coughing in episodes, sometimes leading to vomiting, is typically a manifestation of whooping cough, also known as „the cough of 100 days.” It is diagnosed in unvaccinated children or those under 6 months who have not completed their vaccination. In infants, coughing episodes can cause respiratory arrest. Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that requires treatment with appropriate antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
For uncomplicated acute respiratory infections, there are simple non-medication measures that are highly effective in relieving cough in children. One of them is ensuring sufficient hydration, which prevents dehydration and contributes to the easy expectoration of mucus. It is also important to maintain a comfortable room temperature and humidity for the child, as overly warm and dry air can worsen the cough.
Initiating medication treatment without consulting a doctor is not recommended because coughing is just a symptom, and although the most common cause is viral infection, it can also be a manifestation of a condition that requires diagnosis and treatment.
Coughing that does not decrease in intensity and persists for more than 3-4 weeks also requires medical attention, as it may be a manifestation of a more serious medical problem or a chronic condition.