We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.
Coughs are common in babies, but as a parent you are is naturally concerned when your baby coughs. Therefore, knowing what to do for baby’s cough is essential. While most are not severe, understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments of baby’s cough can ease your concerns and help you relieve your little one.
This blog post looks at the causes of babies’ coughs, highlights symptoms to watch for, and presents treatment options. Additionally, we will provide valuable tips on preventing your baby from catching a cough in the first place.
Several factors can trigger a cough in babies. Here are some of the most common causes:
Common colds are the leading cause of coughs in babies, affecting their nose and throat1. The main symptoms of a cold are difficulty breathing (likely caused by too much mucus – nasal congestion) and a runny nose.
Babies are particularly susceptible to catching the common cold due to multiple reasons. One reason is their frequent proximity to other children, who are typically exposed to a wide variety of environments and germs and pass illnesses back-and-forth between each other. Another reason is that their immune systems have yet to develop resistance to any common infections. In the first year of life, most babies experience around six to eight colds, possibly even higher if they attend childcare centers2.
Treating the common cold in infants involves alleviating their symptoms by ensuring proper hydration, maintaining humid air, and facilitating unobstructed nasal passages by removing mucus.
Typically caused by a viral infection, colds resolve independently within a week or two. However, very young infants must be promptly examined by a doctor upon the initial signs of a common cold to rule out the presence of more severe illnesses like croup or pneumonia.
It is not uncommon for children to accidentally inhale or swallow foreign objects, leading to foreign body aspiration3. When this happens, the child may initially experience choking or difficulty breathing, followed by respiratory symptoms.
Common symptoms of foreign body aspiration in children include:
These symptoms can be concerning and may require immediate medical attention. If a child is suspected of aspirating a foreign object, it is crucial to seek medical help immediately. The doctor will perform an examination, including imaging tests such as X-rays or bronchoscopy, to locate and the foreign body, then remove it from the airway if necessary.
Allergies in children happen when their bodies react to certain things in the environment, like pollen or dust4. Allergies can contribute to various symptoms, including coughing.
Some children are more likely to have allergies because of their genes. This means a baby’s cough can from birth be from allergies, such as to dust. But whether or not they develop allergies also depends on what allergens they're exposed to (things that cause allergies), irritants, and any infections.
For a child at high risk of developing allergies, controlling what they eat and their surroundings from an early age. This can help reduce the chances of them getting allergies. Even once they are no longer exposed to the allergens, their respiratory systems will likely still be negatively affected for some time5. It's essential to treat them with medicines that reduce inflammation (swelling).
Asthma is a chronic lung condition leading to a persistent cough, wheezing, and difficulty breathing6. The classic asthma symptoms in babies are coughing, wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing), and having difficulty breathing or being short of breath. These symptoms don't always happen but rather come and go in episodes.
Different things can make these symptoms start or get worse. Some common triggers are getting cold or other infections in the upper respiratory tract (like the nose and throat), exercising or being active, being around things they are allergic to (like dust or pollen), and breathing in things that irritate the airways, such as tobacco smoke. Sometimes, these symptoms can be worse at night.
If your baby is diagnosed with asthma and experiences these symptoms, seeking medical attention for appropriate treatment is essential.
To protect your child, ensure they receive the complete vaccination regimen. As immunity is not fully established until multiple doses are administered, you and your infant's caregivers must receive the Tdap vaccination (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis)8.
If you suspect your baby has contracted whooping cough, don't hesitate to call 911 for prompt medical attention. Early intervention is crucial in managing whooping cough.
Croup is a respiratory condition commonly seen in infants and young children that causes a distinctive cough9. It is usually caused by a viral infection that affects the upper airways, particularly the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea).
The cough associated with croup is often described as a “barking” cough because it resembles the sound of a seal or a dog. A harsh, raspy quality and a high-pitched sound characterize it. The cough can accompany other symptoms such as a hoarse voice, difficulty breathing, and a noisy or complex breathing pattern.
Croup cough tends to be more prominent at night and may worsen when the baby is agitated or crying. The coughing episodes can be sudden and may last for several minutes, leading to periods of restlessness and discomfort for the child. Sometimes, the cough may be accompanied by a low-grade fever, runny nose, and mild sore throat.
If recommended by a healthcare professional, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (paracetamol) or ibuprofen can be given to reduce fever and discomfort. Sometimes, a single dose of oral corticosteroids (such as dexamethasone or prednisolone) may be prescribed to help reduce airway inflammation and improve breathing. This is usually reserved for moderate to severe cases.
Medical attention may be necessary in severe cases or if your child has significant difficulty breathing. This could include visiting the emergency room or calling for emergency medical assistance.
Bronchiolitis happens when the lining of the small airways in the lungs gets inflamed10. This inflammation causes the cells in that lining to produce more mucus than normal because they become swollen and damaged. These inflamed cells block the airway and make it harder for air to pass through, which can cause a wheezing sound when breathing.
According to the Mayo Clinic, bronchiolitis usually starts with symptoms similar to a regular cold, like a runny nose and cough11. However, it can get worse over time. One of the main signs of bronchiolitis is a high-pitched whistling sound (wheezing) when the baby breathes out, alongside coughing. Sometimes, children with bronchiolitis have difficulty breathing. These symptoms last approximately one to two weeks, but sometimes they can last even longer.
Luckily, most babies with bronchiolitis can get better by being takien care of at home. They will need to rest and drink plenty of fluids; a humidifier may make breathing easier. However,, they might need to go to the hospital for extra care and monitoring until they feel better. If concerned, seek medical help by reporting baby’s cough to the doctor alongside their other symptoms.
Pneumonia is a severe illness affecting many children worldwide, especially those under five years old12. In simpler terms, pneumonia is a big concern because it makes many children very sick.
In infants and young children, the symptoms can be slightly different from adults. They may include:
If your baby develops symptoms of pneumonia, it is crucial to seek medical attention. A doctor will evaluate the symptoms, perform a physical examination, and may order additional tests, such as a chest X-ray or blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
The treatment of pneumonia largely depends on the cause and severity of the infection. Bacterial pneumonia is often treated with antibiotics, medicines that can kill bacteria. Viral pneumonia does not respond to antibiotics and is typically treated symptomatically to make the patient feel better; it typically resolves independently with rest, fluids, and supportive care.
However, in severe cases of pneumonia, hospitalization may be necessary for young children, specifically those with underlying health conditions. In the hospital, they can receive more intensive treatment, including intravenous antibiotics and respiratory support if needed.
Babies can catch COVID-19 just the same as adults. In fact, children in general may catch COVID-19 more often than adults13.
Luckily, most of the time, when kids have COVID-19, they have less severe symptoms compared to adults. Sometimes, they don't show any signs of being sick at all. CDC states that the usual symptoms of COVID-19 in children are fever and cough. However, they can also have a sore throat, runny nose, headache, tiredness, difficulty breathing, or problems with their stomach, like feeling sick, throwing up, or having diarrhea.14.
It can be challenging to identify COVID-19 in children and babies based solely on their symptoms because the signs and symptoms of a COVID-19 cough can be similar to those of other conditions. This is why, when someone develops a cough , it is necessary to test for COVID-19 to rule it out or confirm it.
Mainly, treatment of COVID-19 in children is managed in an outpatient setting –; it allows children to receive the necessary care while lowering the risk of transmission to others outside the family, the disruption to their life, their chances of catching further diseases like MRSA, and reducing the resources necessary to care for them so the resources are available for others.
In some cases, children with COVID-19 can become very sick and need to stay in the hospital. When children are admitted to the hospital or receive medical care for COVID-19, the doctors may perform additional tests alongside testing for COVID-19. These further tests can include laboratory tests, to check different aspects of their blood, and radiographic studies, which involve taking images of their body, such as X-rays. Children with severe COVID-19 who require hospitalization typically have abnormal vital signs, like heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and body temperature15.
When a child has severe to critical COVID-19, the doctors will provide different treatments to help them get better. However, it's important to note that only some medications used for treating severe to critical COVID-19 in adults have been authorized or approved for use in children. Treating severe to critical COVID-19 in children is based on carefully evaluating and considering the best options for their conditions. Some medicines certified for adults may also be authorized for use in children, depending on the specific circumstances and available evidence. Treatments that both adults and infants can receive include assistance with breathing problems, treating lung complications, or relieving other medical conditions to allow the body to put its resources towards fighting the COVID-19 virus.
While a baby's immune system fights off a cough, there are steps you can take to alleviate their discomfort:
Regarding over-the-counter baby cough medicine – consult your doctor before administering any over-the-counter cough medicine to your baby. Dosages will be different for baby and it is easy to overdose. The FDA advice against giving cough and cold medications to children under two years of age16.
Additionally, while honey is a traditional and effective treatment for cough in adults, it is not suitable for infants under 12 months old. When baby coughs, they should not be given honey as honey can contain botulism-causing spores17. These are harmless to most adults, but young infants cannot defend against the infection, especially if they also have something else causing a cough.
Although most baby coughs are harmless, you will always worry about your baby’s cough. There are some situations when specific symptoms may warrant medical attention. Keep an eye out for the following indicators:
Consult a healthcare professional if your baby experiences any of these symptoms.
Prevention is vital when it comes to protecting your baby from coughs. Implement these measures to safeguard your little one's health:
In conclusion, coughing in babies can be caused by various factors, from respiratory illnesses like croup to allergies or irritants in the environment.
Parents should monitor their baby's cough and seek medical attention if there are other symptoms like difficulty breathing or fever. With proper care and treatment, most babies with a cough will recover quickly and without complications.References
Marion is a freelance health and wellness writer with a passion for all things digital health. She loves diving deep into the latest research and trends in the industry and distilling them down into fun, relatable pieces that people can relate to. Whether you're a health nut or a tech geek, she is always looking for new and interesting ways to help readers access quality and evidence-based information.