Coughing is a defence mechanism. It’s the body’s way of getting rid of mucus. For example, children may cough when they have a respiratory infection such as a cold or flu (see Colds and flu).

Coughing is also a way to dislodge a foreign body (small object or other). Foreign bodies can cause a cough immediately after being drawn into the airway, or several days later.

What to do?

Information to which you should pay special attention

Health Canada advises against giving cough and cold medications (syrups, suppositories, etc.) to children under the age of 6. They are not effective and can be dangerous for young children.

If your child seems to have a lot of mucus, you can clean out her nose (see Stuffed-up or runny nose).

If she has a fever, see What to do if your child has a fever.

Make sure she drinks enough fluids. Some children prefer warm drinks when they are sick.

If your child has a hoarse voice or barking cough that sounds like a barking dog, this usually indicates laryngitis (also known as “false croup”). To relieve your child’s cough, have him breathe cold air for a few minutes: bundle him up warmly and take him outdoors, or open a window or the freezer door. Cold air will calm the inflammation in the throat (larynx).

When to consult a health professional

See a doctor if your child

  • Coughs a lot and is less than 3 months old
  • Is coughing to the point of choking or vomiting
  • Has had a cough for more than 10 days

See a doctor right away if your child is coughing and also shows any of the following signs:

  • He has trouble breathing or his breathing is laboured.
  • He has chest retractions (the skin pulls in between his ribs or beneath his rib cage).
  • He is wheezing or breathing noisily and rapidly.
  • You think his cough might be caused by a foreign body in his airway.
  • You are concerned about his overall health.

Call 9-1-1 if the situation seems serious and urgent enough that you need an ambulance.

An Info-Santé nurse (8-1-1) can advise you at any time.

If you think he might have COVID-19, and you have questions, contact Info-Santé (8-1-1).

Airway: Passages through which the air we breathe enters and leaves the body.