Also known as: acute cough, chronic cough.

What is cough?

Cough is an extremely common medical symptom that can accompany a wide variety of conditions. Cough is a reflex that protects your child’s breathing passages (airways-bronchi) by removing mucus (and/or other foreign material), irritating substances and infections by the forceful expulsion of air from the lungs. It can be mild to severe, last a short time (acute cough lasts less than 2-3 weeks), be episodic or last a long time (chronic cough lasts more than 4 weeks).

What causes cough? 

An occasional cough is normal. There are however a large number of causes of coughing in infants and children. The most common acute cause of cough is an infection (usually viral - usually the common “cold”) in the respiratory tract. Children may have approximately 8 such episodes per year, lasting 7-10 days. Allergies involving the nose, sinuses or bronchi are also common. A chronic cough needs to be investigated to rule out a number of conditions like an inhaled foreign body, asthma, a post nasal drip from infections of the sinuses, reflux of acid from the stomach into the airway, bacterial infections, exposure to smoke or other environmental irritants and many other conditions.

What are the symptoms of cough? 

Coughing may occur during the day and night, or during the night only- it may be dry, moist or repetitive and it may be accompanied by a “whoop”. If a cough is accompanied by the spitting up of green/yellow mucus or shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing or a high fever, your pediatrician should be notified or the child should be evaluated urgently by a doctor.

What are cough care options? 

No over-the-counter cough medications should be given to children less than 4 years of age. Research shows that these medications offer little to no benefit to these children, and can have serious side effects. For an acute cough, in children over the age of 1 year, a teaspoon of honey by mouth or drinking warm liquids may be helpful. A chronic cough is managed by treating the underlying cause. 

Reviewed by: Richmond Darko, MD

This page was last updated on: 3/23/2018 2:17:19 PM


Andrew was born with chronic lung disease and has had to live his entire life connected to a ventilator that helps him breathe. He’s been receiving treatment at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital since he was three months old, and along the way he and his family were told about VACC Camp, a week-long camp free of charge for patients like him.

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