Decoding your Baby's Cough

It is very unpleasant to hear your baby coughing. Cough is normal in babies and it is one of the defense mechanisms to eliminate the foreign body out. It is important for the parents to differentiate the types of cough and act accordingly. Here we are discussing the types of cough and the remedies for it.

Last Updated: 23 October 2020

Decoding your Baby's Cough
Decoding your Baby's Cough
Cough as a defense in infections

Cough is considered to be one of the vital immune defenses against respiratory tract infections.  Cough helps in clearing the mucus that is secreted into the airways during respiratory infections. So a cough clears the airways and helps prevent infection.

As cold and cough are caused by different types of viruses, it is estimated that a child may suffer from respiratory tract infections at least six to twelve times in a year. Most of the cough subsides on its own and some types of cough require treatment. The duration of cough and the sound of it helps in identifying which type of cough your child has and whether it really needs to be bothered or it will subside on its own.

Decoding your baby’s cough

Learn the types of cough and decode your baby’s cough accordingly.

Dry cough

Dry coughs are usually caused by irritants in the airway such as allergen or smoke. If your baby has dry cough you will not hear coughing up phlegm or mucus. A dry cough can also be due to a reaction to a particular type of food or medicines. Monitor if there is a change in environment or she walks in an area that has high pollens.

Dry coughs are usually severe and last less than three weeks. Sometimes dry cough may be accompanied by fever, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, chills, and loss of appetite and a runny or stuffy nose.

Wet cough

A wet cough produces mucus from the lungs. It is usually because of a cold and symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, headaches and mild fever. These coughs can last from two to four weeks. The remedies for wet cough include vaporizers and a steady flow of warm steam to melt mucus secretions that can ease congestion.

Children during their first four months do not face much cough symptoms and if you notice cough in them during winter, it can be due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is considered to be a dangerous viral infection for babies. Coughs become common when your child crosses one year.

Cough that sounds like dry hack

This type of cough may indicate flu and symptoms of it includes runny nose and sore throat. A baby may have mucus and mild fever, but usually you can notice dry cough. Taking rest and intake of lots of fluids are the home remedies. American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of cough syrup in children who are less than six years as cough syrup may cause a lot of fatal effects. Some of the other treatment options include honey (for babies over a year), saline drops, and a cool-mist humidifier. To reduce fever Acetaminophen can be used. If you notice a high fever you can consult a doctor immediately.

Croup Cough

In this type of cough, you can hear loud and harsh noises and barking sounds. This is due to a viral infection which causes inflammation of the vocal cords and the baby feels difficulty in breathing. Child feels disturbances at night. The symptoms include fever, stuffy nose, difficulty swallowing, irritability and a hoarse voice. Croup cough is usually seen in children under the age of five and will subside in three to four days. Steam air inhalation and humidifier can treat croup cough.


A cough may be bronchiolitis when there is inflammation of the airways that is due to environmental factors like dust and exposure to allergens. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes bronchiolitis in children who are less than one year. Basic cold, with cough and a runny nose is followed by bronchiolitis. Treatment for bronchiolitis involves intake of lots of fluids, rest and using a cool mist humidifier. Asthma is suspected when cough is accompanied by shortness of breath or wheezing.

Whooping cough

This cough is characterized by a high pitched whooping sound and when prolonged periods of cough are seen. This is due to a bacterial infection and symptoms of it include alarming cold like symptoms, runny nose, low grade fever, bulging eyes and face discoloration. It is important for your child to be immunized with three doses of DTap (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine along with booster doses. Whooping cough or pertussis is contagious and becomes more rapid and uncontrollable turning to be dangerous for infants requiring immediate medical attention.  

Pneumonia Baby Cough

This is due to bacterial or viral infection in the lungs and can be due to multiple conditions including common cold. The baby will have symptoms like wet cough, rapid breathing, feel very tired, fever, vomiting, chills, loss of appetite, chest and abdominal pain. It is mandatory to seek medical advice immediately.

Asthma baby cough

Asthma is suspected where there are signs of wheezing, retractions, symptoms of cold, itchy and runny nose. Asthma is uncommon in children under two years, however when there is a family history of allergy and asthma and if the baby has eczema, asthma may be diagnosed. When you notice wheezing in your baby, you can seek medical advice. Liquid form of albuterol and nebulizer are prescribed.   

When to contact doctor immediately

When you notice the following symptoms in your baby, contact your pediatrician immediately

When you notice cough if your baby is less than 4 months

A cough with high fever

Prolonged periods of cough

Face discoloration

Breathing difficulties

Unable to catch her breath

Coughing disturbs feeding or nursing

Night sweats, weight loss

Coughing makes your baby tired and weak

Coughing produces blood or discharge.


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