How to tell if your child’s cough is serious

A look at what kind of cough your toddler may have, and where to find more advice on symptoms and treatments

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Working out the cause of your child’s cough can be hard even after examination by a doctor, according to Dr Lowri Kew, GP. “If your child is unwell or you’re worried, seek medical help,” she advises. 

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Here are some of the conditions that could be causing your toddler’s coughing.  

Croup

Croup is usually seen in children under 2, and starts with a temperature and hoarse voice. The characteristic barking cough (a bit like a seal) is worse at night.

Read more about croup, from the syptoms and cause to treatments.

Chest infections

Chest infections can affect your child at any age. Typical symptoms include a higher temperature (up to 38ºC), going off food, an increased rate of breathing and a cough.

Sinusitis

If your toddler’s older, he may complain of a headache. He may have a temperature and a cough at night, as mucus drains down the throat.

Find out more about the symptoms and treatments of sinusitis.

Asthma

Asthma is more common if there’s family history of it. It doesn’t cause a high temperature unless there’s also a chest infection. Symptoms include a cough at night or wheezing with exercise.

In an acute attack, your toddler may breathe faster, cough, wheeze or draw in the skin between his ribs as he breathes.

Find out about childhood asthma, from diagnosis and treatments, to living with asthma.

Whooping cough

Whooping cough can start with a runny nose, progressing to a dry cough that occurs in bursts. After a bout of a hacking cough, your toddler will breathe in, and – if your child’s older – this may sound like a whooping noise.

Your toddler may vomit and is likely to be exhausted. The cough may last for several months and can occur even in vaccinated children.

Read more about whooping cough symptoms, treatments and prevention.

Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis usually affect babies under 6 months, although can be up to 1 year. It starts like a cold, which progresses to an irritable cough, an increased rate of breathing and difficulty feeding over 2-3 days. If your child’s older, it usually just causes a cough and sore throat.

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Find out more about the symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention of bronchiolitis.

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