Children's Health

Decoding a cough

When is a Cough More Than Just a Cough?

Children can develop coughs for various reasons, and sometimes a cough is just a cough. Coughing is your child’s body’s way of protecting itself from infections and foreign substances. But how do you know when a cough is more than just a cough?

A Cough Caused by a Cold

Coughing may increase in frequency with viral infections, such as colds, lasting for a couple of weeks. Watch for these accompanying symptoms to determine if your child may have a viral infection.

  • Possibility of low-grade fever
  • Sore throat
  • Yellow mucus (as opposed to clear)
Did You Know?

The color of mucus is not as important for diagnosing your child as the length of time that a patient has had a runny nose.

The most important treatment for a child with a cold is getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of liquids.

The Flu and Bacterial Infections

The onset of flu, or bacterial infection requiring antibiotic treatment, is usually accompanied by symptoms and is faster and usually more severe than symptoms associated with a cold. Watch for these accompanying symptoms to determine if your child may have the flu or a bacterial infection.

  • Sore throat
  • A temperature of 100.5 or greater
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
Chronic Cough: Allergies or Asthma?
  • Allergies can cause symptoms (including runny nose and sneezing) for much longer than a cold. If your child’s cough persists for more than two weeks, it may be a chronic cough.
  • Chronic coughing can be a result of allergies or asthma. What’s more, allergens can trigger asthma symptoms, making the root cause more difficult to diagnose. To spot the difference, look for these symptoms typical of asthma:
    • Coughing that is worse at night or in the morning.
    • Chest tightness. Your child may feel as though there is a weight on his or her chest.
    • Shortness of breath. It becomes more difficult to breathe. They might feel like they can’t take full breaths.
    • When airways become inflamed, you may hear a whistling sound as your child breathes.
How do you determine what kind of over- the- counter cough medicine to use?

Children under the age of 4 years old should not be given cough syrup without the advice of a pediatrician. Decongestants are used to relieve the symptoms of a stuffy nose and/or sinuses, while an expectorant is used to relieve phlegm in the lungs.

When should you bring your sick child to the emergency room? 

Babies under the age of 3 months who have a cough or a child whose cough has a whooping sound should be seen right away.

Children having severe asthma attacks require immediate medical attention.

When should you bring your child for an office visit?

If your child has a cough accompanied by a fever for three days they should see a pediatrician.

Even if your child has none of the above symptoms, it’s important to have your child checked by a health care provider for any cough lasting more than two to three weeks. The doctor will perform a physical exam and may suggest further testing to determine the cause of the cough.

Children’s Hospital of Georgia Pediatric Care offers parents:
  • Dedication to caring for their children and listening to their concerns.
  • “Early bird” walk-in sick appointments for established patients from 7:30- 8 a.m. Monday through Friday
  • Quick and easy referrals to the largest team of pediatric specialists in the region
  • Onsite radiology services
  • Two convenient locations to serve you: Downtown and at West Wheeler Parkway

The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has the largest team of general pediatricians, adolescent medicine physicians and pediatric specialists in the Augusta area. For more information, visit our website at augustahealth.org/kids or call 706-721-KIDS (5437).

About the author

Children's Hospital of Georgia

Children's Hospital of Georgia

Children’s Hospital of Georgia is the only facility in the area dedicated exclusively to children. It staffs the largest team of pediatric specialists in the region who deliver out- and in- patient care for everything from common childhood illnesses to life-threatening conditions like heart disorders, cancer and neurological diseases.

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