Cough in Children

Cough can be caused by many things, including viral infections, bacterial infections, asthma, or allergies. These cough-producing diseases can be mild or severe. Two common causes of cough in children are viral bronchitis, also known as a chest cold, and viral croup. Even when severe, bronchitis and croup do not benefit from antibiotics, which only kill bacteria. Pneumonia is less common among children, but may be caused by bacteria, requiring antibiotics.


  • Bronchiolitis is an infection of the small airways, with wheezing, cough, fever, and rapid breathing. Bronchiolitis is viral, typically caused by respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. It is common among infants and young children, especially during the winter and spring. It is most serious among children under a year old, especially when they were born prematurely. There is a preventive medicine for these high-risk infants that is given during RSV season.
  • Bronchitis is also known as a chest cold, and is inflammation of the medium-sized airways. Bronchitis causes a loose, junky cough that produces mucus. Viruses cause bronchitis in children. Children with viral bronchitis may cough up yellow or green mucus. This does not mean the infection is bacterial. The yellow or green color is caused by the immune response to the viral infection. Children with bronchitis DO NOT need antibiotics. Studies show that using antibiotics for bronchitis does not reduce the number of days of cough or reduce the symptoms. Using antibiotics also does not prevent bacterial pneumonia.
  • Croup is a narrowing of the upper airway, resulting in a hoarse, barky cough, and sometimes a noise with breathing in. Viruses like parainfluenza cause croup. Severe croup can cause trouble breathing, especially in smaller children. Antibiotics are not useful for croup.
  • Whooping cough is a specific bacterial infection, also known as pertussis. Pertussis is prevented by vaccination (DPT vaccine) given several times during childhood and is rare among vaccinated children. This illness is characterized by long spasms of coughing where the child cannot catch his breath, followed by a "whooping" noise when a breath is finally taken. These spells are separated by periods without problems. Pertussis is dangerous because during coughing spells, a child can turn blue and stop breathing. Pertussis is treated with an antibiotic called erythromycin.
  • Asthma causes attacks of wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath, associated with constriction of muscles and swelling in the medium sized airways with over-production of mucus. Asthma may be triggered by a virus, but is caused by a type of allergic hypersensitivity. Asthma is treated with medicines that relax and dilate the airways, and calm down the mucus production. Antibiotics are not useful to treat asthma.
  • Pneumonia is a lung infection that affects the lung tissue and air sacs. It can be caused by either viruses or bacteria. Symptoms include cough, fever, rapid breathing, and trouble breathing. Children with bacterial pneumonia usually look very sick.. They are not playful, and they do not eat or drink fluids well. Pneumonia will ordinarily require antibiotic treatment
  • Posted on Wednesday, November 7, 2007 at 12:41AM by Registered CommenterAdministrator | CommentsPost a Comment