Coughing is the body's way of removing foreign material or mucus from
the lungs and upper airway passages or of reacting to an
irritated airway. Coughs have distinctive traits you can learn to recognize. A
cough is only a symptom, not a disease, and often the importance of a cough can
be determined only when other symptoms are evaluated.
information about coughs in teens and adults, see the topic
Coughs, Age 12 and Older.
A productive cough produces phlegm
or mucus (sputum). The mucus may have drained down the back of the throat from
the nose or sinuses or may have come up
from the lungs. A productive cough generally should not be suppressed; it
clears mucus from the lungs. There are many causes of a productive cough, such
- Viral illnesses. It is normal to have a productive cough when you
have a common cold. Coughing is often triggered by mucus that drains down the
back of the throat.
- Infections. An infection of the lungs or upper airway passages
can cause a cough. A productive cough may be a symptom of
- Chronic lung disease. A productive cough could be a sign that a
lung disease is getting worse or that your child has an infection.
- Stomach acid backing up into the
esophagus . This type of coughing may be a symptom of
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and may awaken
your child from sleep.
- Nasal discharge (postnasal drip) draining down the back of the throat. This can cause a productive cough or make your child feel the
need to clear his or her throat frequently. Experts disagree about whether a
postnasal drip or the viral illness that caused it is responsible for the
A nonproductive cough is dry
and does not produce sputum. A dry, hacking cough may develop toward the end of
a cold or after exposure to an irritant, such as dust or smoke. There are many
causes of a nonproductive cough, such as:
- Viral illnesses. After a common cold, a dry cough may last
several weeks longer than other symptoms and often gets worse at night.
- Bronchospasm. A nonproductive cough, particularly at night, may
mean spasms in the bronchial tubes (bronchospasm) caused by
- Allergies. Frequent sneezing is also a common symptom of
- Exposure to dust, fumes, and chemicals.
- Asthma. A chronic dry cough may be a sign of mild
asthma. Other symptoms may include wheezing, shortness of breath, or a feeling
of tightness in the chest. For more information, see the topic
Asthma in Children.
- Blockage of the airway by an inhaled object, such as food or a
pill. For more information, see the topic
Swallowed or Inhaled Objects.