Cough Symptoms in Children

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Topic Overview

A cough that is more noticeable when your child is lying down is usually caused by mucus running down the back of the throat (post-nasal drip) from an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, sinusitis, or allergy. A child usually has a runny or stuffy nose, may be irritable, and may have a fever. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to provide relief for this type of cough.

A cough during the night that sounds like a barking seal may be a sign of croup. Your child may sound hoarse with a high-pitched sound (stridor) when breathing in. Home treatment may be all that is needed in most cases. But a barking cough that continues through the day or occurs with difficulty breathing can be more serious.

A child may cough in response to emotional issues (psychogenic cough). This type of cough is present without other symptoms.

Any cough in a baby younger than 3 months, even without other symptoms, needs to be taken seriously. If the cough occurs with a change in feeding habits or decreased activity level, your child needs to be evaluated by a health professional. If your child is acting normally in every other way, simply watch him or her closely for 24 hours.

A cough that is persistent, interrupts sleep, or slows your child down needs to be watched closely. A cough is more likely to be serious if it:

  • Occurs with difficulty breathing.
  • Is persistent, especially if it interferes with sleep or other daily activities.
  • Produces mucus that appears to be from the lungs (sputum) or brings up bloody sputum.
  • Persists after a choking episode. Vomiting may also occur.
  • Comes in spasms, especially if your child is unable to catch his or her breath.

A cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks is usually a sign of an allergy, sinus infection, asthma, or reflux. But it may mean a more serious problem. A visit to your child's doctor is needed when a cough is persistent.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerDavid Messenger, MD

Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014

Current as of: September 9, 2014