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As a person with any life experience under your belt, you probably don’t need to define the term “cough.” You have probably experienced a recurring cough at least once in your life, if not countless times. Sometimes the cough goes away on its own after a short time. Sometimes a cough is a symptom of an illness.
So when should you be concerned about your child’s cough? What is the difference between a “wet cough” and a “dry cough”?
Keith Hanson, MD, is a pediatric hospitalist at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria. Their knowledge can help you identify the type of cough your child is experiencing and what other symptoms to look for to see if you should call your child’s pediatrician.
“Coughing alone isn’t very worrisome, really,” Dr. Hanson said. “But if it’s accompanied by other symptoms of illness, it can help you identify when it’s time to call your child’s pediatrician.”
Wet vs. dry
You have likely seen or heard the terms “wet cough” and “dry cough” used to help diagnose illness. These terms describe two types of cough with different causes.
- Wet cough: Coughing up the mucus from the airways makes the cough sound “wet” as the mucus travels in the airways.
- Dry cough: Also known as a dry cough, this cough has a constant pitch because it does not have the sound of mucus. It is caused by irritation and inflammation of the respiratory tract.
Assess the situation
“If your child has a cough but runs around the room, he’s probably fine,” Dr. Hanson said. “But if they are coughing and feeling miserable, that’s worrying.”
So how do you know if you should contact a doctor? Dr. Hanson suggests answering these questions and, if you answer “yes” to any of them, contact a physician.
Any other symptoms of COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19 can be very similar to those of a common cold, including a cough. Know the symptoms of COVID-19, and if your child has any of them, call their doctor’s office. Find information and resources on COVID-19 to help you learn how to respond to a possible COVID-19 infection.
Does the cough stay strong or get worse after a week?
Even coughing alone without other symptoms should be examined by a doctor if it lasts longer than a week. It still might not be anything serious, but this is a good time when it makes sense to see a doctor for peace of mind.
Is it a deep chest cough that produces thicker yellow or green mucus?
This is a sign of a possible bacterial infection such as pneumonia. Contact a doctor to make an appointment to have it checked out right away.
Is it a loud cough that sounds like a seal barking and is accompanied by sharp breathing?
This could be croup, and the cough can often be accompanied by stridor, a high-pitched breathing sound coming from the upper respiratory tract. Croup is a viral infection that causes some narrowing of the airways at the level of the vocal cords. This usually goes away, but severe cases may require hospitalization, so contact your child’s pediatrician right away.
It is important to have a doctor for you and your children so that you have someone you trust for any health problem. If you don’t already have a primary care provider, you can find one that meets your needs and those of your family. here.