Coughing is relatively painless, but it can be irritating or distracting to others, and the effort of coughing can leave you feeling achy and fatigued.
- A cough is an action the body takes to get rid of substances that are irritating to the air passages, which carry the air a person breathes in from the nose and mouth to the lungs.
- A cough occurs when cells along the air passages get irritated and trigger a chain of events.
- The result is air in the lungs is forced out under high pressure.
- A person can choose to cough (a voluntary process), or the body may cough on its own (an involuntary process).
There are four distinct types of cough: dry cough, wet cough, croup cough, and whooping cough. It is important to know what type of cough your child has, and what it might mean.
Dry Cough A dry, hacking cough is often caused by an infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat), such as a cold or influenza. This type of cough usually gets worse in a warm room or after the child has gone to bed, but a dry cough may also be an early sign of an infection of the lower respiratory tract, as with bronchitis (the inflammation of the smallest airways in the lungs) or pneumonia (the inflammation of the lung tissue itself). Other causes include asthma, which first appears as a dry nighttime cough, and exposure to cigarette smoke or other similar irritants.
Croup Cough Croup is a disease that causes a harsh, barking, dry cough that can sound similar to a seal barking. Children with croup have a swollen upper trachea, or windpipe; this is usually caused by a viral infection. The swelling, which is beneath the vocal cords, causes the barking cough. A child with croup may make a high-pitched sound, known as stridor, when breathing in.
Wet Cough A wet cough is caused by fluid secretions and mucus found in the lower respiratory tract (windpipe and lungs). Common causes of wet cough include infections and asthma. The coughing removes fluid from the lower respiratory tract.
Whooping Cough (also known as pertussis) A child with whooping cough will have symptoms similar to an ordinary cold, but gradually the cough becomes worse, with severe fits of deep, fast coughing, especially at night. The frequent coughing fits are generally a series of 5 to 15 staccato coughs in rapid succession. After coughing, the child will breathe deeply, sometimes making a "whooping" sound. The rapid coughing can lead to breathing problems and the child can look somewhat blue because of the temporary shortage of oxygen.
A dangerous reason for coughing is that something is stuck in the child's throat or windpipe. If your child suddenly starts coughing and seems to have real trouble breathing, or she starts grabbing her throat, there is a small object or a piece of hard food stuck in the windpipe. In children older than 1 year, perform the Heimlich maneuver. Otherwise, call 911 or the doctor immediately if your child:
- Is younger than 1 month old
- Has an obvious breathing disorder that is not due to a blocked nose
- Is having coughing spasms and passing out (loss of consciousness)
- Has started to turn blue around the lips, mouth, and fingernails
- Is coughing up blood
- Is less active than normal
- Is having a seizure
If you are certain that your child is not choking, check to see if other serious symptoms are present. Make an appointment with your doctor today if your child:
- Is vomiting or has chest pains
- Has asthma or an allergic reaction
- Has a sinus infection
- Has had a fever of 100°F or higher for more than 72 hours
- Is between the ages of 1 to 3 months and has been coughing for more than 72 hours
- Has been suffering from increasing or persistent coughing for more than three weeks