Coughs are one of the most common – and distressing – symptoms of childhood illness. How awful a cough sounds isn’t necessarily an indication of how sick your child is. Most coughs are caused by viruses, and doctors usually don’t prescribe antibiotics, which only work against bacteria. Understanding the different types of cough can help you know when to handle them at home and when you need a doctor’s opinion.
» CROUP What strikes at midnight? A croupy cough. When there is inflammation in the upper airways, your child may develop a barky cough, a bit like a seal.
» WHOOPING COUGH This infection of the airways is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.
You’ll know if your little one has it when they’re experiencing spells of coughing with no time to breathe in between. At the end of the coughing session, they’ll make a ‘whooping’ sound when they take a deep breath.
» WHEEZY COUGH When the lower airways are inflamed, your child might make a wheezy sound as they breathe out. This can be caused by asthma or the viral infection bronchiolitis.
» NIGHT-TIME COUGH Coughs often get worse overnight. It doesn’t necessarily mean your child is getting sicker – it’s simply mucus draining from the nose into the throat when they’re lying down. Asthma can also trigger a night-time cough.
» COUGH WITH A TEMPERATURE If your child is lethargic and has a cough with a temperature of 39°C or higher, it could be pneumonia. In this instance, it’s time to see the GP.
» PERSISTENT COUGH Any cough that lasts for more than three weeks needs a doctor’s attention.