When Is a Kid’s Cough More Than a Cold?

18 Jan
photo by Micah Taylor

As you know, any kind of cough with Jenna equals cause for alarm. I go into hypervigilant mode and work to determine what kind of cough it is and whether it’s worsening. I’ve had a few moms ask me about symptoms lately, so I decided to put the information I learned out there for everyone. Hopefully, this will help someone else who might be in hypervigilant mode and looking for more information.

Bronchiolitis (RSV) In most “typical” kids, this virus is what most parents consider “just a cold,” but it has the potential to become serious, so here’s what you should know:

Symptoms: Runny nose, fever, cough, wheezing with breathing, irritability, & loss of appetite.

Treatment: Lots of fluids and rest. Serious cases (especially babies) may require hospitalization for oxygen, IV fluids and medications.

When to call the doctor: Trouble breathing, including the skin across, below or above ribs being pulled tight or sucking in (retractions); thick nasal discharge; unusually lethargic; refusal to nurse, eat or take a bottle; signs of dehydration.


Symptoms: Barking cough – especially at night; high pitched whistling noise with inhalation (stridor); runny nose; fever.

Treatment: Some kids are helped by sitting in the bathroom with the door shut and a steamy hot shower running for 15-20 minutes at a time. If steam seems to make it worse or upset your child, try bundling them up and taking them outside to breathe the cool night air, or open your freezer and let them breathe the cold air from there.

When to call the doctor: Trouble breathing, including the skin across, below or above ribs being pulled tight or sucking in (retractions); stridor that lasts more than 5 minutes, occurs at rest, or gets worse; extreme lethargy.


Symptoms: Cold symptoms that persist longer than a week & continue to get worse; fever; wet/phlegmy cough; chest or stomach pain; chills; rapid breathing; lethargy/fatigue.

Treatment: A test can determine if it’s bacterial, which antibiotics can treat; viral cases have to run their course. Tylenol or ibuprofen can help with pain and fever, and steroids may be prescribed in severe cases.

When to call the doctor: As soon as you suspect pneumonia to prevent it from worsening. A chest x-ray might be required for diagnosis.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Symptoms: Whooping sound on inhalation; trouble breathing between coughs; coughing spells that last more than a minute.

Treatment: Antibiotics, lots of fluids, rest, and a cool mist vaporizer.

When to call the doctor: Immediately. Babies may need hospitalization and older children will require antibiotics as soon as possible.

Depending on your child’s condition, breathing treatments might also be recommended using a machine called a nebulizer that can usually be rented. Older children might be prescribed treatments via an inhaler with a spacer.

If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, please keep them home to protect them from worsening or developing complications, as well as to minimize spreading to others.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the advice of any medical professional. If you have any questions about your health, or whether or not the recommendations in this post are appropriate for you and your family, please contact a doctor.


Posted by on January 18, 2010 in Health, Parenting tips


5 responses to “When Is a Kid’s Cough More Than a Cold?

  1. Heather

    January 18, 2010 at 1:11 am

    Where’s Winter Lung on the list?

  2. PrincessJenn

    January 18, 2010 at 1:43 am

    This is a great summary! Definitely going to be bookmarking so I can reference every time V gets sick!

  3. psychmamma

    January 18, 2010 at 1:57 am

    PrincessJenn –

    Thanks, sweets! I know you already know all about croup, firsthand. Here’s hoping you don’t need the reference too often!

  4. ginabad

    January 20, 2010 at 6:51 am

    On Thanksgiving 2008, Zoe got the croup. Hubby took her to the doctor, because of that chest symptom you mentioned. They literally tortured the child for 8 hours (3 years old with SPD), doing dumb ass things like xrays (it’s the croup). They pulled out an archaic looking plastic imprisonment device and didn’t even get off more than one image. Then they massacred her hand because they taped the IV too tight, which she pulled at, causing more pain, until her wrist was the size of a golf ball.

    That was the day shift, hubby was with her through the night and didn’t even describe the torture. So lesson? Try the shower thing BEFORE even a doc visit AND make sure it’s a TOP FLIGHT hospital.

  5. psychmamma

    January 28, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Great advice! Thanks for sharing your personal experience. So sorry it was horrible. Here’s hoping that others can learn from your information!


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