You wake up one morning to the sound of your 5-year-old coughing his head off with what sounds like a very nasty cough.
What do you do? How do you treat it? Is it contagious? Will it go away on its own?
These are all very important questions, and the answers will differ for different types of coughs.
Today I want to talk about some of the most common reasons for coughs in children and how you can decide which kind your little one has so you’ll know how to treat it.
How To Decipher A Cough
A dry cough sounds like a plain old cough.
Go ahead and make yourself cough. How did it sound? Chances are it was pretty non-eventful and nothing that would concern you too much.
Dry coughs are typically the result of an irritant like cold air, a smell (air fresheners, smoke, spices), or even allergies or asthma.
A wet cough sounds like something is coming up from the lungs. A lot of times it’s referred to as a “hacking” cough because it’s very loose and sounds like your hacking something up. Gross, I know.
It’s usually the result of mucus build up in the airways. Since too much mucous isn’t supposed to be in your lungs, your body gets the urge to cough forcefully to move some of that mucus out of the airways.
A wet cough can be the result of allergies, colds, bronchitis or pneumonia.
Sudden, Forceful Cough
A sudden, forceful cough sounds like a dry cough and it’s very quick and repeated. It’s most likely due to something being stuck in the airway and usually stops after getting whatever went in comes out.
A “wheezing” cough can either be dry or wet (usually wet), but the wheezing sound comes during exhaling and it sounds like a whistle. Wheezing usually is the result of the smaller, lower airways being blocked by something such as mucous or inflammation.
If you hear noise when your kiddo is inhaling, then you’re hearing what’s referred to as “stridor” which sounds like a course, musical sound. Stridor is usually a result of swelling in the upper airways and is more serious than a wheeze. This is the kind of cough you see most commonly with Croup (see below).
A barking cough is characteristic of Croup, and it sounds like a seal barking. Croup is a result of a viral infection and results in swelling of the upper and lower airways. It usually shows up at night and gets worse as the night progresses. Younger children are most affected by croup.
A “barking” cough can also be brought on by a sudden change in temperature or allergies. It’s typically a dry cough.
Cold air and steam tend to help these kinds of coughs.
When you hear the term “whooping cough” you automatically think of the childhood illness “Pertussis” and its characteristic-like cough with the “whoop” at the end.
The “whoop” comes at the end of several coughs in a row when the child tries to take a quick, deep breath.
There’s not really a treatment for whooping cough. By the time the cough shows up, your kid pretty much has it. The best you can do for them is to keep them calm and relaxed and help them through the coughing spells.
Listen To The Sounds Of Coughs
If you’re still not sure if you can distinguish the different coughs by the sounds they make, check out the links below to listen to different ones.
Web MD – The Sounds Of Coughs
Health 24 – Identifying Your Child’s Cough