Cough: Overview

What is coughing?

Coughing is one way your body helps keep your lungs healthy. Coughing clears secretions from the lungs that contain bacteria, dust and other particles. While it is normal for children to cough once in a while, if your child coughs frequently it may be a sign that he or she is sick or has an underlying lung condition.

What causes coughing?

Coughing can be caused by many things. Coughing in children is most often caused by an infection of the airways or lungs, including viruses that cause the common cold, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, croup (a cough that sounds like a seal barking) or whooping cough (pertussis). Other common causes of cough in children include asthma, allergies, nasal congestion, gastroesophageal or acid reflux and tobacco smoke.

Rarer causes of cough in children include cystic fibrosis, aspiration (inhaling liquids, food or other foreign objects into the lungs), immune system problems and primary ciliary dyskinesia.   

Who gets a cough?

Everyone coughs at times. Coughing due to an infection of the airways or lungs usually lasts less than 3 weeks. A chronic cough (cough lasting longer than 4 weeks) may be a symptom of an underlying lung condition and should be evaluated by your doctor.

Helpful resources:

  • Healthy Children provides parents with health information on a variety of health issues associated with coughs and is based on research and information from the American Academy of Pediatrics.