Common causes for a child’s cough

Children cough for all sorts of reasons. Some of the most common causes include:

Cold and Flu

It’s common for young children to have multiple colds a year. Hundreds of different viruses can cause a cold and children slowly build immunity to these viruses as they encounter them. Most colds last between 5 to 10 days and your little one could experience sniffles, a sore throat, fever, and headaches as they recover. A child’s body produces a lot of mucus as it fights off a cold and coughing is the body’s way of trying to clear that mucus away as it trickles down the back of the throat. This cough is normal and can sometimes last a few weeks after the other symptoms have gone away.

Hay fever

Hay fever – seasonal allergies caused by grass and tree pollen – causes a chronic runny nose, watery eyes, and an itchy throat in children. Hay fever can sometimes cause a child to cough too. As the excess mucus in the nose trickles down the back of your child’s throat, they will feel the need to cough to clear it away. Hay fever is often worse during spring and summer when there is a higher level of pollen in the air. Common household allergens such as dust-mites and mould can also cause allergy symptoms throughout the year. Reducing your child’s exposure to allergens or removing any obvious allergens, such as dust or mould from your child’s environment may help reduce their allergy symptoms.


Reflux can cause a burning feeling in the chest5 and can make children cough.5 This can happen when the acidic contents of the stomach travel back through the throat and trigger the natural cough reflex. Your child may complain of a “tummy ache” since they may be too young to describe the burning sensation in their chest. If you suspect reflux, speak to your doctor about possible treatments.

When to call the doctor

Most of the time coughing in babies and toddlers is usually caused by something benign, but call your doctor if your child:

  • Seems unwell and you are concerned
  • Has a high fever
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Is not drinking very much or has fewer wet nappies than usual
  • Has a cough that lasts for many weeks and you are worried

If your child coughs up blood, seek medical help immediately.

How to relieve the discomfort of a cough in babies and children

Here are some tips to help relieve the discomfort of your child’s cough while they have a cold:

  • Keep your child well-hydrated to help loosen the mucus
    - Warm lemon tea with honey may also help to soothe the throat and chest irritation caused by coughing
  • Do not give cough medicine to babies or toddlers. There are some cough medicines that may be used in children over the age of 6, for example:
    - expectorants (which help loosen mucus in wet coughs) and
    - cough-suppressants (which inhibit the cough reflex in the case of a dry cough)

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about which type of cough medicine is suitable for your child’s cough.


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