National Eye Institute. https://nei.nih.gov. Accessed Dec. 5, 2017.
Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 8, 2017.
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Coughing and wheezing in children
Read the full fact sheet
Coughing and wheezing in babies can be distressing for you and your baby, but in most cases, symptoms can be relieved at home.
Seek medical advice if symptoms are persistent or you are worried about your baby.
Smoking in the home or car increases the risk of respiratory problems in babies.
Coughing and wheezing are common symptoms of childhood illness. They do not usually mean your child has a serious condition, although they can sound awful and may be distressing for you and your child. Coughing is a normal, healthy and important reflex that helps clear the airways in the throat and chest.
In most cases, you can relieve the symptoms of coughing and wheezing at home. However, your child may need urgent medical attention if the symptoms become more serious.
A child can stop breathing during a severe respiratory attack. If your child becomes distressed or their symptoms don’t settle, take them to your doctor or children’s hospital straight away.
If your child suddenly starts to cough without being unwell first, check whether they are choking. This requires immediate emergency treatment.
Smoking in the home or car increases the risk of respiratory problems in children.
Causes of coughing and wheezing in children
There are different reasons why your child may cough or wheeze. Possible causes include:
colds and other viruses – this is a very common cause of coughing
choking – the coughing is sudden and the child has not been unwell
croup – this tends to cause a barking, hoarse cough
bronchiolitis – this is a chest infection, which can cause coughing and wheezing
smoke – smoking around children can cause them to cough and should be avoided
hay fever – this may be caused by dust mites, animal hair or moulds. As well as coughs, other symptoms may include sneezing and a runny nose
allergy – this can cause coughing after exposure to specific substances
asthma – coughing tends to be worse at night or after exercise. The child may also wheeze
whooping cough – a contagious infection, which can be prevented by immunisation
pneumonia – this causes a sudden onset of cough, high fever and fast breathing: it can be prevented by immunisation.
Cough and wheezing are usually not asthma
Cough and wheezing are common when young children have colds and chest infections. It usually does not mean they have asthma. It is often difficult to tell whether very young children have asthma, as they have narrower airways and tend to get a lot of colds.
Most doctors do not diagnose asthma in babies until after 12 months of age, once the muscles around the airways in the lungs have matured. Sometimes, they may prescribe asthma medication before the baby is 12 months old, to see if the symptoms respond to that treatment.
When to seek immediate medical help for coughing and wheezing in children
Children can stop breathing during a severe respiratory attack. If the coughing and wheezing don’t settle, or if your child becomes more distressed or unwell, take them to your doctor or children’s hospital straight away.
Seek immediate medical help if:
your child is having difficulty breathing
their breathing becomes rapid or irregular
your child’s breathing is noisy when they are not crying
their skin turns blue or they become very pale
they seem unusually tired
they have a temperature over 37°C
they refuse food or drink
your child suddenly starts to cough and has not been unwell – this may indicate that they are choking. Choking requires immediate emergency treatment.
Having something stuck in the nose can be another cause of breathing difficulty. Symptoms may include:
a one-sided runny or blocked nose
a whistling noise when breathing through the nose
tenderness around the nose
complaining about a strange smell that no one else can detect.
If you think your child may have something stuck in their nose take them to see a doctor.
Non-urgent treatment for coughing and wheezing
Generally, you can relieve mild coughing and wheezing at home. Usually, the coughing will clear up in a few days to a couple of weeks. If mild coughing goes on for three weeks, see your doctor.
Home care suggestions for mild coughing and wheezing in children include:
comfort your child – try to keep your child calm. Having a cough and a noisy wheeze frightens children and breathing is more difficult when they are upset
offer frequent drinks – drinking smaller amounts, but more often, may be easier if they are blocked up from a cold
avoid smoking – smoking in the home or car increases the risk of respiratory problems in children.
Medicines such as antibiotics don’t help viral infections such as colds, flu, bronchiolitis or croup. ‘Over-the-counter’ cough medicines are not suitable for infants and young children without specific advice from your child’s doctor, as there is evidence that they may cause harm to some children and mask symptoms of more serious illness.
Where to get help
In an emergency, call triple zero (000)
Emergency department of your nearest hospital
NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 606 024 – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
Maternal and Child Health Line Tel. 13 22 29 (24 hours)
Asthma Australia Helpline Tel. 1800 278 462
Your GP (doctor)
Your local community health centre
Asthma, 2018, Royal Children’s Hospital.
Bronchiolitis (wheezing babies), Child and Youth Health, South Australian Government.
Sung V and Cranswick N 2009 'Cough and cold remedies for children', Australian Prescriber, vol. 32, no. 5.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Wheezing in children | Nestlé Health Science
Nestlé Health Science
Wheezing or noisy breathing is characterized by a high-pitched, whistling sound that occurs when the small airways constrict, preventing the child from breathing. This is a common problem in infants, and in general infants and children wheeze more than adults due to differences in the size of their airways.
Why does my child wheeze? There are various causes of wheezing in children, including:
Food allergy, such as Cow's milk protein (CMP) allergy , or other allergies to dust or pollen
Chronic disease such as asthma
Respiratory disease or cold virus
Can wheezing be a manifestation of CMPA? Wheezing is a typical symptom in children with CMPA. Nearly 30% of children with CMPA have wheezing as a symptom. Children with CMPA usually have more than one symptom, and these symptoms can be very different from each other.
If you think baby is wheezing, or making wheezing sounds, it could be CMPA. You may have noticed other symptoms (other than wheezing) that may affect other parts of the child's body.
For a simple and easy way to check for typical symptoms associated with CMPA, you can use our Checking symptoms. in any case, if you have any doubts or concerns about the health of the child, you should consult a health care professional as soon as possible
Other symptoms of cow's milk protein allergy
CRYING AND COLIC
REFUSAL TO FOOD
REFLUX AND BUCK
Runny nose and sneezing
IMPORTANT NOTE: : It is possible to continue breastfeeding if the infant is allergic to cow's milk protein. To do this, the mother needs a special diet with the exclusion of all sources of cow's milk protein. Only if these measures do not bring the desired effect, the doctor recommends the use of a special therapeutic mixture intended for children from 0 to 1 year old. It is important to follow the correct methods of preparing the mixture: using boiled water, sterilized bottles and following the rules for diluting the mixture. Medicinal mixtures intended for diet therapy of CMPA should be used under the supervision of a physician.
Wheezing/noisy, hard, heavy breathing in a child
home > Symptoms of childhood illnesses: section information > Wheezing / noisy breathing in a child
A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P R S T U F X C H W Shch E Yu Ya
When the airways are normal, the child breathes silently and effortlessly. When their patency is disturbed, a high-pitched sound may appear during breathing, as the air passes through the narrowed breathing tubes with effort. Wheezes are sounds that occur when a child breathes in and out through a narrowed airway. Airway obstruction can occur due to swelling caused by infection, foreign body, inflammation, and bronchial muscle spasm in asthma. Sometimes a rough wheeze is heard only on inspiration: this may be a symptom of croup. This wheezing is called stridor (see Help for Croup).
Call 'emergency care' for child if wheezing is present:
shortness of breath
the child has blue skin around the lips
unusual drowsiness, lethargy
inability to speak or make normal sounds
Wheezing in a child may appear suddenly when a foreign body has entered the respiratory tract. Small wheezing may be accompanied by SARS. If you experience wheezing when breathing, contact your doctor immediately.
WHAT TO DO
Does an infant have rather loud wheezing only when he inhales? Is he eating and growing normally?
If the child eats, sleeps and grows normally, noisy breathing simply shows that the tissues of the airways are still quite elastic. Such noisy breathing should pass by 1.5 years, when the cartilages of the larynx (windpipe) become denser. Nevertheless pay attention to the noisy breathing of the child attention of the pediatrician at the next examination
Does the child also have a runny nose or cough?
Call the pediatrician . Give plenty of fluids, make the child comfortable (see also Runny nose in a child)
Child under one year old? Does he have a cough that lasts 2 hours or more? Has he had a cold the last day or two? Rapid and labored breathing? Does he refuse to eat? Irritable?
Bronchiolitis is a disease, usually viral, affecting the smallest bronchi
Call "emergency" . If the diagnosis is confirmed, hospitalization may be required
Does the child cough often? Do you have bouts of difficulty breathing, especially at night or during exercise? Does anyone in the family suffer from asthma or allergies?
Make an appointment with pediatrician . He will examine the child and prescribe the necessary examinations; advise treatment based on results (see also If child has asthma)
Does the child have difficulty breathing, choking? Short, dry cough that sounds like a dog barking; hoarse voice? Elevated temperature? Do symptoms get worse at night?
Croup - difficulty in breathing caused by inflammation and narrowing of the upper airway
Although most seizures can be relieved with home remedies (see Help for Croup), if a seizure occurs, call "" "emergency" . Before the doctor arrives, take the child to the bathroom, close the door, pour hot water into the bath to create steam, Let the child breathe humidified air. Drop Naphthyzinum in your nose. If the condition does not improve, give the child a breath of cool night air
Does the child suddenly have difficulty breathing, wheezing?
Foreign body in the airways (most common in children 6 months to 2 years of age)
This is an emergency. Call an ambulance ; first aid measures - see Respiratory arrest)
Shortness of breath, wheezing, severe cough? The temperature is raised to 38.3 about C or more? Is the child not feeling well? Do the intercostal spaces retract when you inhale?
Urgently call the pediatrician , he will make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. Hospitalization may be required (see Difficulty breathing, Cough)
Does your child snore while sleeping? Do you wake up irritated every morning? Does he often breathe through his mouth because his nose is stuffed up? Tired quickly? Does he speak through his nose? Does he have frequent colds and ear infections?
Enlarged adenoids; allergy
Consult a pediatrician , he will examine the child to detect enlarged adenoids (see also Runny nose in a child, or an allergic disease), prescribe treatment
Why wheezing is more common in young children
Wheezing is common in children under 3 years of age. Since their airways are smaller, obstruction due to spasm of the bronchial muscles, inflammation and swelling of the mucous membrane, and accumulation of secretions occurs more easily than in older children. Respiratory tract diseases can be provoked by air pollution, including cigarette smoke. If anyone in the family smokes, you must insist that no one smokes in the house.
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Kazakova Liliya Valentinovna
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A complete list of symptoms (more than 70) that require the help of a pediatrician can be found here.