follow us on

How To Decode Your Child’s Cough

Figure out what’s worrisome and what’s not with this guide

Any parent who has ever stayed up late at night monitoring a child’s breathing and coughing knows how exhausting and worrisome it can be. Often, you find yourself wondering if it’s time to call your pediatrician, or whether you should just “let it be.” Hopefully, these tips will help you “breathe easier,” and know what to do when your child has a cough. 

What is a cough?

First, let’s define what a cough is, and why it is not something we should fear right away. Dr. Roslyn Marie Kho-Dychiao, a pediatric pulmonologist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Quezon City, defines a cough as “a reflex to expel air from the lungs.” 

She explains further, “The act of coughing protects the respiratory system by clearing it of irritants and secretions. It is normal for most people to cough once in a while to clear the airway of irritants. But when coughing becomes frequent and prolonged, it may interfere with daily activities, making this a concern.” 

Thus, Dr. Kho-Dychiao advises parents to be mindful of other signs and symptoms when their children have a cough. “If a child develops a cough, parents should observe other accompanying symptoms such as fever, nasal congestion, ear discomfort, sore throat, chest pains, and breathlessness,” she adds.


Telltale signs

What is your child’s cough trying to tell you? Dr. Kho- Dychiao clues us in:



The flu, otherwise known as influenza, is more dangerous than the common cold. There are three types (A, B, and C) of the influenza virus. Flu symptoms include a dry, hacking cough, sore throat, high-grade fever and chills, extreme tiredness, headache, body aches, and abdominal discomfort. 


Pneumonia is a lung infection usually caused by a virus, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. It begins after an upper respiratory tract infection and can have symptoms such as a cough, which may have greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus, fever and chills, fast breathing (the child is working hard to breathe), vomiting, chest pain, abdominal pain, and poor appetite and activity. In extreme cases, the child’s lips and fingernails may also have a bluish color. 


Asthma is caused by an inflammation of the airways, and is characterized by repeated, reversible airway obstruction. The most common symptom of childhood asthma is coughing accompanied by wheezing. Asthmatic kids may also have difficulty in breathing, chest tightness, and poor exercise endurance. 

When to seek medical help 

  •  If your child has severe cough spasms or attacks, wheezing, or stridor;
  •  If the cough lasts three weeks, and it is getting worse 
  •  If there is a persistent fever  
  •  If the child is below three months old, and has fever and cough 
  •  If he is breathing fast or working hard to breathe
  •  If he has a blue or dusky color in the lips, face, or tongue during or after coughing 

Note: Do remember, though, that you should consult your child’s pediatrician if ever you have any questions or fears about your child’s symptoms. 

Cough Relief

Is your child starting to have a cough? Dr. Kho-Dychiao recommends three home remedies: 

• Offer plenty of fluids— breastmilk or formula for babies, cool water and juice for older kids.

• Run a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom. 

• Use saline nose drops to relieve congestion. 

This article was originally published in Working Mom August 2015 issue.