Parents want to know when to worry about their child’s cough, especially during the fall and winter months. Let me see if I can make some noise on the topic of coughing.

Coughing is one of the most common symptoms we see in children. Usually it only represents a minor problem, such as a cold caused by a virus that gets better with time.

In fact, it is actually healthy for your children to cough! It represents a type of reflex in the body that is trying to clear out the germs that are in the throat or chest. 

So when are coughs worrisome?

If a cough sounds like how a barking seal might sound and tends to get worse in the night…

…It suggests a special viral infection called croup. Croup warrants a call and possible visit to your child’s health care professional for further treatment. A fever usually accompanies this type of cough.

If the cough sounds like your child is “whooping,” especially at the end of several coughs…

…It may be pertussis or whooping cough. This is most likely if your child has not been immunized fully to prevent this serious infection. This type of cough also warrants a call if not a visit.

If the cough is heard along with wheezes…

…You need to consider asthma as the possible culprit. Asthma requires special treatment with medicines that will help to open up or dilate the airways. So call your child’s health care professional as soon as you can.

If the cough starts suddenly without other cold symptoms…

…Your child may have choked on food or an unexpected object. Either way, the airway needs to be cleared. This is a medical emergency and you should seek medical assistance immediately.

Finally if your child has a cough that lasts more than a week, is having any trouble breathing, appears blue in the face, has a thick and mucous-y cough associated with fever, or you’re just concerned about the cough, please call your child’s health care professional for further evaluation.

Hopefully tips like this will air out any concerns you might have and allow you to breathe more comfortably the next time you are concerned about your child’s cough. 

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital. He is also chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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