When your child has a cough

Know what type of cough it is and how to manage it

Coughing is one of the most common symptoms of illness in children1. Not only does it sound terrible but it can be very uncomfortable for your child. Most incidences of cough are caused by upper respiratory viral infections which often resolve on its own within a few days but can be managed over the counter (OTC) medications4. In fact, coughing is your body’s natural reflex to protect your airways from something that blocks or irritates the airways1, 2, 3.

There are 4 main types of cough; wet, dry, croup and whooping cough2. It is important to understand what type of cough your child has in order to understand the best course of action and if necessary, what syrup combination would be most effective in relieving the symptoms.

Even the smallest bodies can make a big sound when affected by a cough 3. Let’s look at how to identify the different types of coughs and the treatment options for each2:


A wet cough is a type of cough where mucus or phlegm builds up in the lower respiratory tract 2,4. It is usually loose and chesty and can cause chest pain 4. It is typically caused by an infection or asthma2. A wet cough should be encouraged to help rid the lungs of the infection2,4,5. Cough mixtures that contain mucolytics, bronchodilators and/or expectorants can be taken to promote coughing and help make it easier to cough up the mucus or phlegm4,


A dry, hacking cough is often associated with an infection in the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) caused by cold or flu, but can also be an early warning sign of an infection in the lower respiratory tract, as with bronchitis or pneumonia 2. Other causes can include allergies, pollution or a dry environment3,4. Since a dry cough does not present with phlegm or mucus and the lungs do not have to cough it up, it serves no physiological useful purpose, and can therefore be suppressed, particularly if there is no identifiable cause and if it is disruptive, for example if it disturbs your sleep4,5.


Croup is an illness that causes a harsh, barking, dry cough that can sound similar to a seal barking. Croup is typically caused by a viral infection and causes the upper trachea or windpipe to become inflamed and swollen. It is the actual swelling in this area that causes the barking cough2. Because croup is caused by a virus, treatment with antibiotics is unlikely to have an effect. With home care, patients with croup can recover at home within a few days6.


A child suffering from whooping cough will present with symptoms similar to an ordinary cold, that gradually worsen over time, especially at night, when severe fits of deep, fast coughing might take place. These coughing fits are often a series of 5 to 15 “staccato” coughs in quick succession, followed by the child inhaling deeply which causes the “whooping” sound2. Other symptoms of whooping cough can also include runny nose, sneezing and a low-grade fever1. The best way to prevent whooping cough is with a vaccine. It can be treated with antibiotics6, which can also help to prevent the infection from spreading to others6,7.

Whatever the type of cough, the fact that children tend to swallow mucus rather than spit it out can cause an upset stomach and vomiting2. Symptoms are also often worse at night or when the child is lying down as the mucus can collect in the back of the throat2.

Some home remedies can also help relieve cough symptoms such as giving the child plenty of fluids to try and prevent the mucus from thickening, using a humidifier to increase the amount of water vapour in the air which can reduce the child’s coughing2.

If you are concerned about your child’s cough, call your doctor. Depending on the type of cough, other symptoms, and how long it is lasting, the doctor might want to see your child1. Go to www.knowyourcough.co.za to find out more about wet and dry coughs or speak to your doctor or pharmacist about the right cough solution for your child’s cough.

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. This editorial has content that includes independent comments and opinions from independent healthcare providers and are the opinions and experiences of that particular healthcare provider which are not necessarily that of iNova Pharmaceuticals.

Name and business address of applicant: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Limited. Co. Reg. No.1952/001640/07, 15E Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. www.inovapharma.co.za. For full prescribing information, refer to the individual package inserts as approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals. IN2867/18


  1. What are Coughs? Kid’s Health (https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/childs-cough.html) Website accessed on 4 August 2018
  2. Cough Symptoms and Treatment. Parents.com (https://www.parents.com/health/cough/cough/ ) Website accessed on 4 August 2018
  3. Children’s Cough: Causes and Treatment. Web MD (https://www.webmd.com/children/guide/cough-treatment#2 ) Website accessed on 4 August 2018
  4. Truter I. Cough. Evidence Based Pharmacy Practice. SA Pharm J 2007;74(4):20-27.
  5. Van Schoor J. An approach to recommending cough mixtures in pharmacy. S Afr Pharm J 2012;79(6):30-33.
  6. Difference between whooping cough and croup – Difference Between Net (http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/difference-between-whooping-cough-and-croup/) Website accessed on 18 June 2018
  7. Whooping Cough: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment – Web MD (https://www.webmd.com/children/whooping-cough-symptoms-treatment). Website accessed on 18 June 2018) Website accessed on 18 June 2018