When Should I Take My Child To The Doctor For A Cough?


No matter how old your child is, there’s a good chance that they’ll come down with a cough at some point each year. This is especially true for children who attend an in-person school or go to a daycare program. But how long should a child have a cough before going to the doctor?

As a parent, it’s important to understand when to see a doctor about a child’s cough, so that you can prevent it from developing into a more serious issue. And while most causes of a cough in children will clear up on their own, there are a few situations in which medication attention may be necessary.

This is what you need to know about when to take your kid to the doctor for a cough…

What’s Causing My Child’s Cough?

First, you’ll want to pay close attention to any other symptoms that may be accompanying your child’s cough. These symptoms can help you determine what the root cause of the cough is so that you can take appropriate action.

Many different issues can cause a cough in children of all years of age. But on average, there are 5 leading causes that every parent should be aware of.

Top 5 Causes Of A Cough In Children

Common Cold

Yes, the common cold earned its name for a good reason. This contagious viral infection can be passed around by both adults and kids at nearly anytime of the year. In most cases, a common cold will go away on its own within 3 to 5 days and rarely requires medical intervention. However, if your child’s cold leads to a build-up of fluid in their lungs or sinuses, a more serious infection can easily develop.

Symptoms of the common cold include…

  • Mild cough
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Low fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Mucus or nasal drips

How to treat it at home: You can help alleviate your child’s cold symptoms by giving them age-appropriate over-the-counter cough medicines, as well as using warm liquids to soothe their irritated throat.


Another common cause of a persistent cough in children is an allergic reaction. Allergies can be seasonal or year-round, depending on what your child has a sensitivity to. If your child’s cough is due to allergies, you’ll likely notice a pattern that causes the cough to become worse when exposed to the allergen.

Symptoms of allergies include…

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Coughing
  • Ear or headaches
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Difficulty breathing

How to treat it at home: If you suspect that your child’s cough is due to allergies, you should call your pediatrician to determine which type of medication should be used to ease their symptoms.

Whooping Cough

If you have an infant at home, you’ve probably been encouraged by your doctor to receive a pertussis vaccine. That’s because pertussis, also called whooping cough, is a highly contagious viral infection that is particularly deadly for babies who are less than a year old. When a child develops whooping cough, it’s crucial for them to be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Symptoms of whooping cough include…

  • Chronic cough that causes a whooping sound
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Whistling sound when breathing
  • Vomiting

Bacterial Infections

As we’ve discussed, bacterial respiratory infections often occur when a viral infection has created an excessive amount of mucus in the lungs. This can lead to more serious symptoms that will likely need to be treated with antibiotics since bacterial infections rarely go away on their own. These types of infections can also spread from person to person.

Symptoms of a bacterial respiratory infection include…

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • Persistent cough
  • Swelling in the throat and lymph nodes

How to treat it at home: Even though antibiotics will be needed to clear up a bacterial infection, you can still alleviate some symptoms at home by using over-the-counter cough medicines, fever reducers, and lozenges to soothe a sore throat.

Other Viral Infections

The final most common cause of cough in children is a viral infection, which can come in many different forms. Since viral infections are highly contagious and vary greatly in their severity, you may need to call your doctor to determine if the virus is something that will require medical attention. Some less serious viral infections will clear up without professional intervention in 1 to 2 weeks.

Symptoms of a viral infection include…

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

How to treat it at home: Whether it’s the flu or another type of viral infection, you can alleviate many of these symptoms at home by making sure your child gets lots of rest. You can also use over-the-counter medications to reduce cough and fever.

What Are The Two Types Of Coughs In Children?

Of course, determining the source of your child’s cough starts with understanding what different types of coughs might mean. In this case, there are two main coughs you should know about.

Wet Cough

Productive coughs, also called wet coughs, happen when mucus in the lungs is being expelled from the body. This is common in bacterial and viral infections like the flu or bronchitis. You’ll be able to spot a wet cough by checking to see if any green or yellow-like fluid is coming out of your child’s mouth while they’re coughing.

Dry Cough

In contrast, dry coughs happen when the throat or airways become inflamed and irritated. This is typically a sign of allergies or some other irritant that has entered the body. You can examine your child’s throat for any redness or swelling to help you figure out if they have a dry cough.

Could My Child’s Cough Be From COVID-19?

COVID-19 has become a serious concern for parents in recent years, and you may be wondering how exactly you can tell if your child’s cough is due to this contagious virus. Just like other viral respiratory infections, COVID-19 can be passed easily from person to person. However, this particular virus comes with some unique symptoms that you can look for before contacting your doctor.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include…

  • Persistent cough
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea

When Should I Take My Child To The Doctor For A Cough?

Now that you know what types of coughs to be on the lookout for in your child, it’s time to look at the situations in which a trip to your pediatrician may be necessary.

You should see a doctor about your child’s cough if…

  • They’ve developed a chronic cough that has lasted for more than two weeks
  • You hear wheezing or whistling sounds when breathing
  • Your child is having trouble breathing normally
  • You notice your child has suddenly lost weight
  • Your child’s cough is accompanied by choking or vomiting
  • They begin coughing bloody mucus
  • Your child is complaining of extreme chest pain

How Telepeds Can Help Your Child’s Cough

No parent wants their child to suffer from a persistent cough. But if you aren’t sure when to take your kid to the doctor for a cough, Telepeds is here to help. Our 100% virtual appointments give you the freedom to seek on-demand medical advice from a team of board-certified pediatricians so that you never have to waste time when your child needs emergency care.

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