It’s normal for children to have occasional coughs due to colds or viruses. However, an ongoing, persistent cough that lasts for weeks or months can be concerning and frustrating for parents.

Here I’ll cover the common causes of chronic coughs in children, how healthcare professionals like me evaluate and diagnose the cough, the various treatment options available, and lifestyle changes that may help alleviate symptoms.

If your child has a persistent cough, you can book an appointment to see me in clinic.

Overview of persistent coughs

A chronic cough is defined as one lasting for more than 4 weeks. Coughing is a natural reflex that helps clear mucus or irritants from the lungs and protects the airways. But when coughing is prolonged, it can disrupt sleep and daily activities, affecting a child’s quality of life.

Determining the cause of the cough through proper diagnosis is crucial to getting the right treatment. Common causes in children include asthma, allergies, acid reflux, or infections.

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Thorough discussion about my daughter’s symptoms including examination, looking at photos/videos. Diagnosis based on these. Clear instructions for treatment.

Symptoms of an ongoing cough

Things to look out for in your child include:

  • Dry, wheezy cough
  • Wet, mucus-producing cough
  • Cough that worsens at night
  • Cough triggered by exercise, allergens, cold air
  • Cough with vomiting or gagging
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Hoarse voice or throat clearing

Causes of an ongoing cough

I will review the child’s symptoms and take a medical history, and conduct a physical exam, listening to the chest with a stethoscope.

Additional tests may include:

  • Chest x-ray: looks for infection or foreign object
  • Allergy testing: identifies environmental triggers

Diagnosis

To diagnose the cause of abdominal pain, I will ask about symptoms and take a medical history. I will usually conduct a physical exam, which may include applying gentle pressure on the abdomen to see if that increases pain. I may send your child for additional diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool sample analysis
  • Urine tests
  • Abdominal X-ray
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • CT scan of the abdomen

Treatment for an ongoing cough

Treatment depends on the cause of the cough, but may include:

  • Asthma medications: bronchodilators, inhaled steroids to reduce inflammation
  • Allergy medications: antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays 
  • Acid reflux medications: antacids, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors
  • Antibiotics: if infection is the cause
  • Steroids: to reduce swelling in airways

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle adjustments that can help manage an ongoing cough in children include:

  • Avoid pollutants
  • Use a humidifier
  • Treat reflux with diet changes
  • Manage allergies by limiting exposure to triggers
  • Practice good hand hygiene

Other coping strategies that may help are:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Using cough drops or boiled sweets
  • Using over-the-counter cough medicine
  • Resting during acute coughing episodes
  • Cough monitoring app
  • Noting triggers and discuss with their doctor

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can a cough last with a common cold?

Coughs from a cold virus can last up to 2-3 weeks. Seek medical advice if it persists longer.

When should I take my child to the doctor for a cough?

Make an appointment if the cough lasts over 4 weeks or is interfering with sleep and activities. Also go in if accompanied by fever, difficulty breathing, or weight loss.

Can cough medicine cure an ongoing cough?

Over-the-counter cough medicine only provides symptom relief. To cure a chronic cough, you need to treat the underlying cause with guidance from your paediatrician.

What natural remedies help soothe a cough?

Honey has cough-suppressing effects. Warm liquids, humidifiers, and cough drops can provide relief. But check with your doctor before giving honey to infants under 1 year old.

Will an inhaler help if my child doesn't have asthma?

Inhalers containing steroids or bronchodilators can be effective at reducing coughs by decreasing inflammation, even if your child doesn’t have asthma. But you must only use them under medical supervision.

Summary

While an ongoing cough in a child can be disruptive and concerning, the good news is that most causes are treatable.

I can help you identify the source of inflammation or irritation through proper diagnosis, which will then inform our treatment plan. With the right medications, lifestyle changes, and coping strategies, your child’s cough can be managed for relief.