Is My Child’s Cough Serious? Know When to See a Doctor

The sound of a child’s persistent cough coming across the baby monitor or from down the hall during the night can easily put your parental radar on high alert. If you’ve spent a few sleepless hours checking on your little one or wondering if the coughing requires a doctor’s visit, check out this quick guide to children’s cough symptoms and signs that indicate you need to get medical care.

Evaluate the Type of Cough

Listening to your child’s cough is one way you can assess the severity of the symptoms. There are three main types of coughs.

Dry Cough

A dry cough can often indicate asthma or a reaction to nasal congestion in the throat. A cough caused by asthma will tend to flare up during the following conditions:

  • At night
  • Early in the morning
  • During exercise
  • In cold air
  • After exertion, laughing, or crying

If you suspect your child has asthma, you should schedule a doctor’s visit. It’s important to have an asthma care plan to help manage the condition and prevent asthma attacks.

If the dry cough is due to nasal congestion in the throat, encourage older children to blow their nose. Plain saline drops may help reduce congestion for all ages of children.

Wet Cough

A wet cough with phlegm often follows a cold. It’s important to monitor how long your child has had a wet cough. Call the doctor if:

  • A wet cough has persisted for more than several days and is producing green or yellow mucus
  • The cough is accompanied by a fever greater than 100.5 degrees
  • Your child’s breathing seems faster than normal

These signs could indicate pneumonia, which needs to be treated with antibiotics.

Croup (Barky Cough)

With croup, a child’s cough may sound like a seal or a small dog barking. Sometimes children with croup also make a whistling sound when breathing in. This is called stridor. While these sounds are scary, croup doesn’t necessarily require a trip to the emergency room.

To relieve croup at home, try running a cool-mist humidifier or creating a mist by running a lukewarm shower in the bathroom. If this helps calm the coughing, you do not need emergency care and can call your child’s doctor for a same-day appointment. If it does not relieve croup symptoms, take your child to the nearest emergency room.

Is it COVID?

Children with COVID-19 typically have a fever and cough, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Other common signs of COVID-19 include a new loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath, and tiredness. You can compare the common symptoms of COVID-19, colds, and flu with the chart in this blog.

While most children with COVID-19 only experience mild symptoms, some children, especially those with underlying medical conditions, become very ill. If you suspect your child has coronavirus, contact their doctor for guidance. Most providers will offer video visits to determine if a child needs testing or other care.


Know Emergency Symptoms

If your child experiences any of the following symptoms, you should immediately go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

  • Shortness of breath: If your child is having trouble breathing or taking a deep breath.
  • Wheezing: A high-pitched whistling sound that is typically heard when breathing out, but is sometimes also made when breathing in.
  • Changes in skin color: If your child appears to be pale, purple, or blue. Especially look at the lips and fingertips for coloring.
  • High fever with a cough: If a cough is accompanied by a fever over 100 degrees.

Virtual and In-Person Pediatric Care at LeBauer

If you need to have your child’s cough evaluated, schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified providers.

  • Same-day appointments for both video and in-person visits are available by calling one of our primary care locations.
  • For a non-urgent appointment, use our online request form.
  • All LeBauer Primary Care offices except Elam Avenue care for babies and children.

Find a LeBauer Near You

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