Cough in children


The most common reason for cough in children is cold, but the problems can also be due to, for example, body or asthma. Coughing usually goes away by itself, although it can take several weeks. Sometimes the child needs treatment for what causes the cough or to reduce the discomfort.

This text is about coughing in children up to about twelve years. 

Different types of cough

It is common for children to cough. Coughing is part of the body’s defenses and helps the respiratory tract to get rid of irritants. Therefore, the cough should not be unnecessarily suppressed.

Colds and other viral infections are the most common causes of cough in children, but other diseases can also cause cough. The cough can also depend on things other than illness. The sudden and violent cough may be due to the baby having something in his throat. Cigarette smoke and other chemical substances in the air can irritate the respiratory tract and cause coughing.

The cough may sound different depending on what is causing it. For example, it can be dry, slimy, scaly, squeaky or peeking. The child can also cough more at different times of the day or at different types of activities. Often the child also has other symptoms, besides the cough

When should I seek care?

What determines whether you should seek care with your child is not just the cough itself, but how the child is doing otherwise.

Seek care at a health care center if the child has a cough and any of these symptoms:

  • The child has a fever for more than four days.
  • The child sometimes has wheezing.
  • The child has had a cough for three weeks which does not seem to subside.

Immediately seek care at a health care center,  on-site emergency room or emergency room if the child has a cough and one or more of the following symptoms:

  • The child is very hungry, for example, is not as contactable as usual, is uninterested in the surroundings or unable to eat.
  • The child has heavy breathing and sounds wheezing when inhaled.
  • The child is less than six months old and has coughs in connection with a cough.
  • the child has difficulty breathing or fever and difficult to swallow his saliva
  • the child has got something in the airways, which they cannot immediately cough up.

It is important that you understand the information

In order for you to be active in your child’s care and to make decisions, it is important that you understand the information you receive from the health care staff. Ask questions if you don’t understand. You can also ask to have the information printed so that you can read it peacefully.

You may also have the right to get help from an interpreter if you have a hearing impairment.

 Want help deciding if you should seek medical care?  Answer three questions based on symptoms and we will guide you further. 

Common symptoms – when should I seek care?

Causes of cough

Viral infections are common

A cold is an infection caused by viruses. A common problem with colds is cough. In addition to coughing, the child often also has a sniff, nasal congestion, sore throat, irritated eyes, and fever, although it does not need to be so high. During the first years of life, children can be pre-cold very often.

Often, the cold begins with irritating dry cough, often called ret cough. Sometimes the infection causes more mucus to form in the airways and the reticulated cough becomes mucous.

A common cold goes by itself. However, the child may continue to cough for several weeks afterward.

RS viruses cause epidemics every year, mainly during the winter months. Older children usually suffer from problems similar to a common cold. However, children younger than two months, premature infants and children with heart or lung disease may have more severe problems.

The infection starts out as a common cold with sniff, cough, and fever. In the case of a more severe infection, the child gets more coughing, more mucus is formed in the airways and the child gets breathing problems with quick, wheezing. For the youngest children, it can be so hard to breathe that they can’t cope with eating or drinking.

Treatment for viral infections

There is no medication for colds caused by viruses. You have to wait until the cold in the child heals on its own and try to relieve the symptoms as best it can. If the cold is caused by or leads to a bacterial infection, the child may sometimes need antibiotics.

Some children who get an RS virus infection become so ill that they have to be cared for in hospitals. The child is then treated, for example, to widen the trachea and to get nourishment.

Whooping cough

Whooping cough is an infectious disease that most children are vaccinated against. Older children and adults may have whooping cough even though they have been vaccinated or have had whooping cough before.

Whooping cough is a serious illness for children younger than one year. Extra vulnerable are children under three months. This is because children under three months have not been able to get their first vaccine dose. Children between three and six months have received only one or two vaccine doses.

Typical whooping cough begins like a cold with cough and sometimes slight fever. Gradually, the cough gets worse and attacks. After a few weeks, the so-called kicks start. The child then coughs so intensely that it becomes difficult to breathe and can turn blue in the face. Most often, the attack ends with the child coughing or vomiting.

Treatment for whooping cough

There is no treatment that cures whooping cough, but children younger than one year can get antibiotics to relieve the symptoms and reduce the contagiousness. Children with major respiratory problems may need to be cared for in hospitals. The earlier the treatment is started, the better the effect it usually has.


Some children may have a croup in connection with colds. Krupp is because the area below the vocal cords has become swollen due to a viral infection. This makes the air more difficult to pass.

Krupp gives a cough that sounds barking. The child also becomes a horse. When inhaled it can sound squeaky and hissing and sometimes the child has difficulty getting air. Usually, the trouble comes late at night, when the child has been lying down for a while. Krupp is most common in children up to three to four years, but can also occur in children up to seven to eight years of age.

Treatment at the body

Lighter body problems can help you relieve at home. Sometimes doctors can prescribe cough suppressant medicine. Some children who have a body can get so difficult to breathe that they need further treatment at a health center or hospital.


Children younger than about three years get lighter pneumonia than older children. This is because the immune system of smaller children is still not fully developed, Pneumonia can be caused by both bacteria and viruses.

Often, pneumonia in children begins as a common cold. Instead of getting better after three to four days, the child gets worse and gets a high fever. Often, but not always, they get more coughing. Breathing gets faster and it can sound stinky when the baby exhales. Sometimes breathing becomes more superficial and cautious.

Treatment of pneumonia

Pneumonia caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics. It is unusual for children with pneumonia to be taken care of in hospitals. This may be needed if, for example, the child does not receive antibiotics or is very included.

Asthma and allergies

Coughing that does not pass can be a sign of asthma. If the child has asthma it is difficult to exhale and the exhalation can sometimes sound wheezing. For younger children, usually about one to two years, it can sometimes be so exhausting to breathe that they cannot cope with eating or drinking.

Children who have untreated asthma are more easily chilled. A cold, in turn, make asthma worse. Often the child has no problems during the day, except if they make an effort. However, it is common with a lot of cough at night.

Children who are allergic to fur animals or pollen can sometimes get a protracted cough. Often, the child also has other allergy symptoms, such as nasal congestion, tingling, and itching of the eyes. 


Some children only have trouble with their asthma in connection with a cold. For them, it may be sufficient to use medicine immediately when the cold begins. Other children who have asthma use medication that widens the trachea daily to reduce the risk of suffering from discomfort. They may need to temporarily increase the dose when a cold is in progress.

If a child becomes much worse in their asthma, they may need to be taken to hospital.

Cough for other reasons

Sometimes coughing can be caused by the child getting something down in the airways. It can be, for example, small parts from toys or beads that are stuffed into the mouth and then inhaled. If the child cannot cough up what has stuck himself, you must try to get it up immediately.

Sometimes small pieces of food can end up in the child’s airways. There it may be lying down and cause inflammation with prolonged coughing as a result. Then a doctor may need to pick up what is stuck. It is done under anesthesia. If the inconvenience is not so great, it may suffice for the child to receive anti-inflammatory drugs.  

Some children have extra sensitive trachea and therefore more often get a prolonged cough. For example, they react more easily to chemical substances in the air, such as cigarette smoke. If someone smokes near the child, it can prolong the cough.

Sudden coughing may be caused by the child’s breathing in gas that irritates the respiratory tract or volatile chemicals, such as lighter fluid or kerosene. The child then gets a strong cough, and so-called chemical pneumonia can develop within a few hours. It is treated in hospitals. The child may receive oxygen and perhaps cortisone. Sometimes other types of treatments are also needed.

What can I do for myself?

Coughing for a long time can be difficult, both for the child and for the parents. It can be particularly troublesome if the child coughs at night so that sleep is disturbed.

There are several things you can do yourself to relieve your child’s cough in case of a cold.

  • Make sure the child drinks properly. Give the child what they like best, such as water, scallion, juice or cool tea. Drinking makes the mucus less tough and easier to cough up. Hot beverages can feel lighthearted in the throat. Drinking properly has at least as good an effect as expectorant drugs.
  • Children who cough a lot at night may be helped by raising the head end of the bed. The easiest way is to bed with extra pillows. Put the pillows under the mattress and they won’t slip away.
  • If the baby is stuffy in the nose, the airways become extra dry and irritated. This is because the child must breathe through the mouth. Then nasal drops at night can make it easier to breathe through the nose.
  • Cool and preferably humid air can help if the child has body. You can open a window or dress the baby and go out for a while. Raising the baby to the lap can soothe and make it easier for the baby to breathe. The swelling in the air ear usually decreases as the child sits up.
  • Make sure the child does not have to stay in smoky environments as smoke makes the cough worse.

Doubtful if prescription cough medication helps

When children have a cough, it is important that they cough up mucus to clear the trachea. Therefore, taking medicines to suppress the cough is not good. To dissolve the mucus, no mucus-releasing drugs are needed either, it is equally effective to drink a lot so that the mucus is thinned out.

According to several studies, non-prescription cough medicines have no proven effect. But some find that they help. There are non-prescription anti-cough medicines and mucosal medicines to buy at the pharmacy.

Do not give cough medicine to children under the age of two or to children who have asthma without first asking their doctor for advice.

Should the child stay at home?

If the child in addition to the cough is nervous, fever-free and can participate in various activities, the child can go to open preschool, preschool or school as usual. But often the cough can get worse if the child is running or making noise.

A child who has a fever is tired and unable to stay home until the fever is gone and they feel good again. 

So you can reduce the risk of coughing

The cold virus spreads easily between children and it is not much you can do to prevent it. Outdoor play means that children naturally have less close contact, while at the same time infectious substances are not spread as easily outdoors. Washing your hands often reduces both the risk of self-infection and the spread of infection.

Tobacco smoke causes the respiratory tract to become inflamed, which increases the risk of children getting prolonged infections. They should therefore not be exposed to smoke. For children who have asthma, it is extra important that the home is non-smoking. Children who have asthma or are allergic to fur animals should not have fur animals at home.

A child who has asthma or allergies may receive special medications that are taken preventively at the beginning of a cold. They can make respiratory problems less prolonged.

Prevent children from inserting into the throat

When it comes to toys, there is often a marking that indicates the age the toys are intended for. Adhering to these recommendations can be a way to reduce the risk of children getting small parts of the trachea.

At bvc or at consumer advisers in your municipality, you can get a small cylinder for free to test if things are too small. The cylinder has a diameter of about three centimeters and is similar to a child’s throat. If the thing you are testing fits into the cylinder, it is dangerous for a small child.

Other small things that are at home can be dangerous if children put them in their mouths. For example, do not let nuts stand where the child can reach them.


At the health center, the doctor finds out more about the child’s cough. You can, for example, answer questions about how the cough sounds, how long the child has coughed, if they cough more at any time of the day and if they have any other symptoms. The older the child is, the more they can tell themselves. 

The doctor examines the baby’s nose, throat and ears, listens to how the breath sounds and counts how many times the child breathes per minute. The doctor also listens to the baby’s heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Pneumonia, asthma, and body produce different sounds from the lungs.


Blood tests may be needed to find out if the child has a viral infection or an infection caused by bacteria. Only bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics.

Sometimes a bacterial sample may also be needed from the baby’s nose. It can happen that the doctor or nurse brushes with a cotton swab inside the nose.


Sometimes x-rays can be helpful to see if the cough indicates pneumonia. X-rays can also be used to see if the baby has had anything in the airways.


In an allergy investigation, you get to answer different questions about what the child is allergic to and what problems they are having. This is often enough for the doctor to diagnose. Sometimes a so-called dot test or an allergy blood test may also need to be taken.

If the doctor suspects that the child has asthma, an asthma study is done. The child who is older than about three years and does not have such major problems is often examined by a doctor at a health care center. Children with more severe problems or younger children may be referred to a childcare center. At the reception, there are various examinations that show how the baby’s lungs work.

More about cough

Coughing is not a disease but a symptom. The cough is a protective reflex that is triggered when something irritates the mucous membranes of the airways. In the mucous membranes, there are nerves that send signals to various muscles in the abdominal wall and the middle nerve and the child starts to cough. By coughing up the mucus, the child gets rid of what irritates the respiratory tract.

The fact that the cough continues for a while after a cold has passed is due to the fact that the mucous membranes are still sensitive.

If the child has an infection, the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract often swell. The trachea is quite narrow in children under six to seven years and therefore a small swelling can already make the air more difficult to pass. 

Leave a Reply