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Coughing And Wheezing In Children: Things Parents Need To Know


Coughing and wheezing are common respiratory symptoms in children that can cause concern for parents. Coughing is an explosive expiration that helps clear irritants or secretions from the airways. Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when airflow is obstructed. While coughing and wheezing are normal for children, especially when they have a cold, persistent or severe symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition. As a parent, it is important to understand the causes of coughing and wheezing and know when to seek medical care. This article will provide an overview of coughing and wheezing in children, including the causes, home remedies, and when to see a doctor.  

Understanding Coughing And Wheezing In Children

Coughing is very common in children and is usually caused by viral respiratory infections like the common cold. Coughing helps clear mucus from the airways and is protective. However, coughing can become disruptive and irritating when severe or persistent. Wet, productive coughs usually indicate the presence of phlegm in the airways. Dry, non-productive coughs may be a sign of irritation. Coughing often worsens at night.

Coughing And Wheezing In Children

Wheezing occurs when airflow is obstructed, causing a high-pitched whistling sound as the child breathes. It is commonly associated with respiratory illnesses like colds, bronchitis, or asthma exacerbations. Wheezing is caused by inflammation and narrowing of the small airways in the lungs. It’s more noticeable when breathing out. Severe wheezing episodes may be life-threatening if the airflow is severely obstructed.  

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Causes Of Coughing And Wheezing In Children

  • Viral infections – Colds, flu, croup, bronchiolitis 
  • Asthma – Allergies, exercise, irritants
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Environmental irritants – Smoke, pollution, dust
  • Foreign body aspiration 
  • Cystic fibrosis   
  • Congenital conditions – Tracheomalacia 

Viral respiratory infections are the most common cause of coughing and wheezing in children. Colds, flu, croup, and bronchiolitis often produce cough and wheeze. Asthma is another leading culprit, where allergies, exercise, colds, smoke, or pollution can trigger coughing and wheezing episodes. Chronic cough may indicate underlying conditions like GERD, cystic fibrosis, or congenital airway abnormalities. Foreign body aspiration, like swallowing a coin or small toy, can also lead to acute coughing and wheezing.

Remedies For Coughing And Wheezing In Children

For mild cough and wheeze caused by a viral cold, the following remedies may provide relief:

  • Humidifier – Moisture soothes irritated airways 
  • Saline spray/drops – Help loosen mucus so it can be cleared
  • Honey – Soothes cough reflex for children over 12 months 
  • Clean air – Avoid smoke and other irritants
  • Rest – Prevents coughing fits      
  • Medications – Over-the-counter cough/cold meds, inhaled bronchodilators for wheezing

For chronic or severe symptoms, prescription medications may be warranted:

  • Corticosteroids – Reduce airway inflammation in asthma
  • Antibiotics – Treat bacterial infections  
  • Nebulizer treatments – Deliver bronchodilators and steroids 
  • GERD medication – Treat reflux as a cause of cough

Alternative remedies like humidified air, honey, and herbal cough syrups may also provide relief. However, always discuss home remedies with your child’s doctor first. Over-the-counter cough and cold medications should be used with caution in children and avoided in infants less than 6 months old. 

When To See A Doctor?

While most coughing and wheezing in children are benign, contact your doctor if your child experiences:

  • Cough lasting more than 4 weeks 
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Green or bloody mucus 
  • Poor feeding or lethargy
  • No symptom improvement after 2-3 days

Prompt medical care is crucial for severe or persistent wheezing to prevent complications. Seek emergency care if your child has severe wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty talking/eating, blue lips or nails, or other signs of respiratory distress.

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Coughing and wheezing are common in children, especially with viral respiratory illnesses. While usually temporary and benign, persistent or severe symptoms may indicate an underlying condition like asthma, pneumonia, or foreign body aspiration. Home remedies like hydration and humidified air often help, but prescription medications may be needed in some cases. Contact your child’s doctor if the cough or wheezing persists beyond a few days or worsens. Prompt care for severe wheezing is vital to prevent life-threatening complications. With an understanding of the causes and treatments, parents can best help their children manage coughing and wheezing episodes.


Q: What’s the difference between coughing and wheezing?

A: Coughing is an explosive expulsion of air from the lungs that helps clear mucus or irritants from the airways. Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when airflow is obstructed in the lung airways.

Q: When should I take my child to see a doctor for coughing/wheezing?

A: Seek medical care if your child’s cough lasts over 4 weeks, they have difficulty breathing or wheezing, fever, green/bloody mucus, poor feeding or lethargy, or symptoms don’t improve after 2-3 days. Get emergency care for severe wheezing or signs of respiratory distress.

Q: What over-the-counter medications can help coughing/wheezing? 

A: For children over 6 months, honey and cough syrups containing dextromethorphan or guaifenesin may help coughs. Oral bronchodilators like albuterol can help wheezing in some cases, but check with your doctor first. Avoid cough/cold meds in children under 6 months.

Q: Can home remedies like humidifiers help coughing/wheezing?

A: Yes, increasing moisture in the air with cool mist humidifiers can soothe irritated airways and loosen mucus. Other home remedies include saline spray, fluids, clean air, rest, and honey for children over 12 months. Always discuss home treatments with your child’s doctor.

Q: What serious conditions can cause chronic coughing/wheezing?

A: Persistent coughing or wheezing may be a sign of asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, pertussis, cystic fibrosis, congenital airway defects, or complications of gastroesophageal reflux disease. See your doctor to determine the cause and proper treatment.

Dr. Harold Gojiberry is not just your ordinary General Practitioner; he is a compassionate healthcare provider with a deep commitment to patient well-being and a passion for literature. With extensive medical knowledge and experience, Dr. Gojiberry has made a significant impact in the field of healthcare, particularly in the area of liver diseases and viral hepatitis.

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