Dry cough in kids and other coughs explained

Dry cough? Green? Wheezy? Know your kid’s cough and how to handle it

Spanish version: https://nortonchildrens.com/news/explicacion-de-la-tos-seca-en-ninos-y-otras-toses/

A kid’s cough can be a sign of a simple cold or something more serious that needs medical attention. Here are six types of coughs, including dry coughs in kids, and how to handle them.

Dry cough in kids

Also called a hacking cough; if it persists after a cold, it likely is caused by residual mucus that will eventually clear up. If a kid’s dry cough happens mostly at night, your child could have asthma. Mucus in inflamed and narrowed lung passages causes irritation that creates a cough. It’s most common when lying down, after exercise, in cold air and when the child has a cold or allergies.

How to handle

If your kid’s dry cough is worse at night or after exercise, he should be examined for asthma by a pediatrician. This is a condition that needs medical intervention and won’t go away on its own.

At-home helps: Control asthma triggers such as dust, mold, pollen and pet dander. If it’s not asthma, your child should drink plenty of fluids while the mucus works its way out of his system.

Green mucus cough

A cough with a lot of mucus or phlegm usually is a sign of a cold, especially if your child also has a runny nose and sore throat. If the cough is accompanied by a fever and thick, green mucus, it could be a sinus infection. If your child has had a cold and the cough is getting worse, it could be pneumonia.

How to handle

A cold has to go away on its own; antibiotics won’t help. If you suspect a sinus infection or pneumonia, call your child’s pediatrician.

At-home helps: If your child is too young to blow her nose, use a bulb syringe to clear the mucus. Saline nose drops also may help, along with a cool-mist humidifier. Over-the-counter cold medicine made just for children can help, but consult with a pharmacist or pediatrician first.

Related: 

Worried your child might have COVID-19? Here’s what to do

Toddler coughing at night? Ways to help everyone get some sleep

Sore throat, diarrhea? How a stomach bug is different from the flu

Wheezing cough

A baby who has a wheezy cough, or a cough that sounds gurgly or raspy, could have an infection of the airways called RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). This most often affects babies in the winter months. In an older child, what you are hearing could be asthma.

How to handle

RSV usually will go away on its own, but let your baby’s pediatrician know what’s going on. If your baby is having trouble breathing, she needs medical attention right away. If it’s an older child, have her examined by a pediatrician.

At-home helps: A cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room can help with congestion. Be sure your child gets plenty of rest and fluids.

Wiped out cough

If your child has a cough accompanied by tiredness, a fever and achiness, she may have the flu, or influenza. The flu is a virus that may incubate in a child for days before the child starts feeling sick.

Norton Children’s Medical Group

Same-day appointments available with our pediatricians at offices throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana.
Find your pediatrician

How to handle

The flu virus has to work its way out of your child’s system. If your child has difficulty breathing or a fever that won’t go away, take her to the doctor.

At-home helps: Drinking plenty of fluids, getting rest and taking children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help relieve symptoms.

Barking cough

A cough that sounds sort of like a bark with a high-pitched whistle when your child inhales could be croup. This virus usually affects kids ages 6 months to 3 years and causes inflammation in the windpipe, creating the telltale whistling sound.

How to handle

Although croup usually goes away on its own, call your child’s pediatrician if you suspect it. If your child is struggling to breathe, call 911.

At-home helps: A cool-mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom, taking a hot shower or sitting in a steamy bathroom can help relieve symptoms. Also, make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids.

Whooping cough

The sound of this cough also is the name for a potentially serious viral illness. If your child is having coughing fits and making a whooping sound when he inhales, it could be whooping cough — caused by bacteria called pertussis. Babies are most likely to get whooping cough because they have not yet had all their boosters for DTaP, a vaccination that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. In babies, the cough may be followed by gagging or vomiting instead of a whooping sound.

How to handle

Call your child’s doctor immediately if you suspect whooping cough. It is highly contagious but also very treatable.

At-home helps: Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and relaxation. Staying in a cool, quiet, dark room may help, as well as lessen the risk of spreading germs. The child also should drink plenty of fluids and avoid areas where the air may be irritating, such as around fireplaces or secondhand smoke.

-Reviewed by Jameel T. Clark, M.D., pediatrician, Norton Children’s Medical Group – Dixie 


Norton Children's Medical Group

Norton Children's Medical Group – Crestwood

Location Details

Norton Children's Medical Group – Windy Hills

Location Details

Norton Children's Medical Group – Fern Creek

Location Details
Pediatricians

Norton Children’s Medical Group

Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, offers pediatric primary care at more than 20 locations throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana.
Find a pediatrician

Related Stories

How do I limit screen time for kids?

Limiting screen time after 18 months of reliance on them can be hard for parents. Many families have felt they had no choice when it came to loosening rules on screen time, due to the […]

Read Full Story

How to sleep train

Sleep training is the process of teaching your child how to fall and stay asleep and self-soothe. It’s not “cry it out,” as many mistakenly assume. We will walk through what sleep training is and […]

Read Full Story

Explicación de la tos seca en niños y otras toses

English versión: https://nortonchildrens.com/news/6-types-kids-coughs-explained/ La tos de un niño puede ser un signo de un simple resfriado o algo más serio que necesita atención médica. Aquí hay seis tipos de tos, incluida la tos seca en […]

Read Full Story

How to take temperature in children

If you suspect your child has a fever, taking your child’s temperature at home is the best way to know if it’s something that can be managed at home or if you need to seek [...]

Read Full Story

What happens at a child’s sports physical?

At a sports physical, a provider will examine your child to make sure they are in adequate condition to participate safely in sports. Your provider will ask for your child’s medical history and do a […]

Read Full Story
View All Stories

Search our entire site.