Coughs, Colds and Runny Noses

By Dr Evelyn Lewin

Coughs and Runny Noses are so common in children and are usually caused by respiratory tract infections (such as a cold). If your Child is in Childcare you are no doubt experiencing these ailments on an ongoing basis which is completely normal. Their little immune systems are building an armoury of antibodies to combat infections in future years. According to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, children have an average of 6-12 respiratory infections a year. Coughing can continue for up to 6 weeks after a viral illness has ended (post-viral cough). If your child has a temperature or your are at all concerned that your child needs professional medical advice please see your local Doctor. Please also see LOW IMMUNITY.


Illnesses that cause coughs, colds and runny noses:
  • Allergies
  • Croup:  Croup is a common viral illness in young children. The cough sounds like a seal barking.
  • Bronchiolitis:   Bronchiolitis affects small babies. It can cause fast breathing, cough and wheeze.
  • Asthma:  Asthma causes a dry cough, commonly at night. Children may have other symptoms, such as shortness of breath or wheeze.
  • Colds and flu:  Coughing can occur in bouts. Children may also have a fever, runny nose and feel unwell.
  • Pneumonia:   Children with pneumonia are unwell. They may have a fever and pain when breathing.
  • Whooping cough:   Whooping cough causes intense coughing fits. At the end of a coughing fit the child takes a deep breath in (called a ‘whoop’). Coughing may continue until the child vomits.


Antibiotics are not needed. Steroid medication can help. If your child is struggling to breathe, seek urgent medical care.

Whooping cough
There is no treatment for whooping cough. Illness can be prevented through vaccination. If your child is struggling to breathe, or your baby has whooping cough, seek urgent medical care. Antibiotics can reduce the risk of spread to others.

Children with pneumonia may need antibiotics. See your doctor.

General treatment of cough:
To reduce spread of illness, children who are coughing and unwell should be kept away from others. They should cover their mouths when coughing and wash their hands afterwards. Children with cough should be kept away from cigarette smoke. Cough suppressants are not recommended. In fact, according to the Australian Government Therapeutic Goods Administration, cough suppressants should not be used in children under the age of six. Honey may soothe a cough. Give 1-2 teaspoons half an hour before bed. Do not give honey to babies aged under one. If cough persists, or your child is unwell, see your doctor.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 25 February 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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