Caring for children with coughs

This page contains information about how to look after a child who has a cough (not due to asthma), what to look out for and when to see a doctor; for more information please visit

Common Symptoms

It can be difficult to decide when to see a Doctor. Here we have given information about normal symptoms which usually can be safely managed at home. If you are still not sure after looking at the information, then ring your GP or 111 for advice.


Coughs can last for 3-4 weeks and make your child feel quite unwell but will still get better by themselves.

‘Noisy chests’ or ‘chesty coughs’ are quite common when young children catch a cold and are not necessarily a sign of a ‘chest infection’.

Healthy children typically get a cough 7-10 times a year and this is not a sign that there is anything wrong with their immune system.

Disturbed Sleep

Coughs will often wake your child in the night; when the child lies down, more of the mucus from the nose and throat runs downwards and your child coughs more to clear it.

Coughing is part of the body’s defence system which helps keep the lungs clear and fight the illness.

Unfortunately this can wake the child in the night but does not mean the illness is more severe.

For children over 1 year, a spoon of honey (perhaps in a warm drink) half an hour before bed may help them to wake less often.

For children over 2 years, vapour rubs (containing camphor, menthol and/or eucalyptus) may help children sleep better.

Fever/High Temperature

In children, a temperature of over 37.5° is considered a fever.

Fever is a normal response to illness and does not harm children. It may even help to fight illness.

Children with a high temperature may be more likely to have a more severe illness, although most do not.

Occasionally a child may have a fit. This shouldn’t cause harm and treating the fever doesn’t prevent it. It is safe to use child paracetamol and ibuprofen to manage children’s fever (and pain) for as long as needed. Follow the dosage on the bottle.

Drinking/Eating Less

Children often eat and drink less when they have normal childhood illnesses. Most children can go a few days without eating much and this will not affect their longer term growth and development.

All children need to drink regularly to avoid becoming dehydrated, especially if they are vomiting

To help prevent dehydration, encourage your child to have sips of water.

When to see the Doctor

Arrange to see or speak to your doctor today if any of the following occur.

Rapid or Difficult breathing (Depending on age)

Age of ChildBreathing Rate
Babies under
6 months
Over 60 breaths per minute
6-12 months
over 50 breaths per minute
over 1 year
over 40 breaths per minute
Any ageBeing short of breath (as if your child has been running) or is ‘working hard’ to
breathe when resting
Any ageSkin between and below the ribs gets sucked in each time your child takes
a breath

High or persistent fever (Depending on age)

Age of ChildTemperature
Babies under
3 months
38°C or more
3-6 months
38°C or more
Children Over
6 months
Over 37.5°C for more than 5 days

If your child has a fever fit call 999 or take them to A&E.

Vomiting (Depending on age)

Babies under
3 months
Vomiting + fever of 38C or above
Babies 3-6
Vomiting + fever of 38C or above
Children over
6 months
Vomiting + fever + extremely drowsy
Any ageSever vomiting (child not able to hold down fluids
for 8 hours or showing signs of dehydration)
Any agePersistent vomiting (more than 2 days)

Skin paler than usual

If your child appears much paler than usual; hands and feet are very cold while their body is warm.

If skin, lips or tongue appear blue, call 999.


Pain in the chest (not when coughing) combined with fever and rapid breathing.

Hard to wake / Unresponsive

Cannot be woken or wakes only slightly and then immediately goes back to sleep.

If your child wakes only with lots of stimulation, or is much less responsive to social stimulation (smiles and talking) than usual.

Not feeding

Babies under 1 year: if your child stops feeding entirely.