- The sound made when the cough reflex clears the airway of irritants
- Most coughs are part of a cold
- A coughing fit or spell is over 5 minutes of nonstop coughing
- Coughs can be dry (no mucus) or wet (with white, yellow or green mucus)
Causes of Cough
- Common Cold. Most coughs are part of a cold that includes the lower airway. The medical name is viral bronchitis. The bronchi are the lower part of the airway that go to the lungs. Bronchitis in children is always caused by a virus. This includes cold viruses, influenza and croup. Bacteria do not cause bronchitis in healthy children.
- Sinus Infection. The exact mechanism of the cough is unknown. It may be that post-nasal drip irritates the lower throat. Or pressure within the sinus may trigger the cough reflex.
- Allergic Cough. Some children get a cough from breathing in an allergic substance. Examples are pollens or cats. Allergic coughs can be controlled with allergy medicines, such as Benadryl.
- Asthma. Asthma with wheezing is the most common cause of chronic coughs in children. In adults, it's smoking.
- Cough Variant Asthma. 25% of children with asthma only cough and never wheeze. The coughing spells have the same triggers as asthma attacks.
- Air Pollution Cough. Fumes of any kind can irritate the airway and cause a cough. Tobacco smoke is the most common example. Others are auto exhaust, smog and paint fumes.
- Exercise Induced Cough. Running will make most coughs worse. If the air is cold or polluted, coughing is even more likely.
- Serious Causes. Pneumonia, bronchiolitis, whooping cough and airway foreign object
Trouble Breathing: How to Tell
Trouble breathing is a reason to see a doctor right away. Respiratory distress is the medical name for trouble breathing. Here are symptoms to worry about:
- Struggling for each breath or shortness of breath
- Tight breathing so that your child can barely speak or cry
- Ribs are pulling in with each breath (called retractions)
- Breathing has become noisy (such as wheezes)
- Breathing is much faster than normal
- Lips or face turn a blue color
Phlegm or Sputum: What's Normal?
- Yellow or green phlegm is a normal part of the healing of viral bronchitis.
- This means the lining of the trachea (windpipe) was damaged by the virus. It's part of the phlegm your child coughs up.
- Bacteria do not cause bronchitis in healthy children. Antibiotics are not helpful for the yellow or green phlegm seen with colds.
- The main treatment of a cough with phlegm is to drink lots of fluids. Also, if the air is dry, using a humidifier will help. Sipping warm clear fluids will also help coughing fits.