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Cough is a very common symptom in young children. It can be acute (short-term), and chronic (long-term), as well as productive or dry, nonproductive cough. Cough is usually a sign of a respiratory infection, but the range of possible causes is very wide. Here are some of the most common causes of cough in young children.

Respiratory Infections

Infants younger than six months rarely get respiratory infections due to protective circulating antibodies acquired from their mother during pregnancy. After that period, respiratory infections are very common as a child’s immune system is not yet fully developed. Depending on the infective agent, respiratory infections can be viral, bacterial, and fungal. 

Bronchitis is inflammation of upper parts of the airways called bronchi, while pneumonia is a more severe condition affecting lung tissue. Both conditions include cough as one of the main symptoms. Bacterial infections are generally more severe, accompanied with high body temperatures and a general feeling of illness.


Bronchial asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition of the airways which can appear at any age, but it is the most common in childhood. The main issue in asthma is narrowing of the airways and overproduction of mucus in the airways. Airflow is then obstructed, so it produces symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, cough, and expectoration. Asthma can be allergic and non-allergic, but in children, the allergic form is predominant. The diagnosis of asthma is made by a podiatrist and pulmonologist and the treatment should be started as soon as possible to prevent permanent damage to the airways. With aging, these symptoms usually vary, becoming less intensive in adolescence and reappearing again once the person is in their 30s and 40s.


Allergies are a growing problem in general population, due to air pollution, increased use of synthetic products and processed food. Cough is usually caused by inhalational allergens, such as pollen and dust mites. These allergens cause a runny nose, itching, sneezing, and cough. Cough can actually be a sign of a more serious allergic event called anaphylaxis. In that case, you should immediately contact your doctor. 

If the cough becomes prolonged and more intensive, the airways may become narrowed and prevent normal airflow. 

If not recognized, inhalational allergies can cause asthma. Therefore it is important to perform at least a skin prick test to determine the cause of the allergy. If the symptoms occur seasonally, the allergen can be assumed, based on the concentration of the allergens in the air at a certain time of year.

Foreign Body Aspiration

Aspiration of a foreign body (part of a toy, beans, marbles, etc.) happens most commonly in children. The initial symptoms include cough, breathlessness, fear, and in some severe case loss of consciousness. This is potentially fatal event if the foreign body is not expectorated or removed immediately either by hand or by performing the Heimlich maneuver. When small foreign bodies that cannot completely obstruct the bronchi are aspirated, after the initial cough the symptoms diminish for some time. During that period, an inflammatory process develops in the lungs around the foreign body, so the symptoms reappear after several days or weeks. Proper diagnostis is crucial in these cases, which includes X-ray, MRI, or a CT of the lungs.

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