First, let’s learn about the common causes of coughs and what types of baby coughs and children’s coughs there are. This may help you understand the potential reasons why your child may be coughing at night and when to see a doctor if your child has a cough.

What is a Cough?

A cough is a reflex action your body uses to clear mucus and other irritants like smoke and dust from the airways. Coughs are usually caused by a cold or flu and usually aren’t caused by something serious.


Common Causes of Coughs

Coughs can have various causes, they include:

  • The common cold
  • Flu
  • Allergens
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Cold air
  • Pollution
  • Asthma
  • Croup
  • Chest infection
  • Second-hand cigarette smoke

Types of Coughs in Babies and Children

Not all coughs are the same when it comes to babies and children. Here are different types of child and baby coughs and their possible causes

Dry coughs

The first type of cough babies and children can get is a dry cough, which doesn’t bring up phlegm. With a dry cough, you’ll notice that it doesn’t sound like there’s mucus the body is trying to get out.

A dry cough may have different possible causes, such as allergies (like dust or pollen), cold air, pollution, pneumonia, bronchitis, the common cold, the flu and second-hand cigarette smoke, for example.

Chesty cough

If your child has a chesty cough, it means that in order to clear their airways, phlegm is being produced.

A chesty cough may be a symptom of a chest infection. Your baby can develop a chesty cough after getting a cold. Watch out for any green or yellow mucus, as this may be a sign of infection. Other symptoms of a chest infection can include your baby wheezing, having a fever or is experiencing shortness of breath. If your child has any of these symptoms, you should take them to see a doctor straight away.

A doctor can determine if antibiotics are necessary. Antibiotics won't help if your child's cough is caused by a viral infection. A cold, bronchiolitis and flu are all caused by viruses. Antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections, not viruses.


There are some outliers you should be aware of – a few causes of coughs in babies and children that aren’t as common. They are:

Baby barking cough

Does your child sound like a barking seal when they’re coughing at night? That's a barking cough.

Croup can cause a dry, barking cough in babies and young children. Other symptoms to watch out for include a harsh, rasping noise when they breathe in a fever or difficulty breathing.

If you think your child has symptoms of Croup take them to the GP or call NHS 111 straight away


Asthma is often associated with coughing and wheezing and can be triggered by cold air and allergies. It can also be triggered by pollution, exercise, mould, emotions like stress, medicines, weather, and infections like cold or flu.

See your GP if you think your child might have asthma.

How to ease coughing in babies and children

How can you help your child if they are coughing?

  • Keep your child well hydrated and make sure they drink enough fluids. Sipping on liquids can help keep the throat moist and protect the vocal cords.
  • If there’s no wheezing and your child is breathing, eating, drinking normally, and is older than 1 year, you can give them some warm water with lemon and honey.
  • Before giving your baby or older child any medication for cough, speak to your doctor or pharmacist first. Some medications can only be given to children once they've reached a certain age, and some might be more effective than others, depending on what type of cough your child has.

When to see a GP and what signs are medical emergency

Take your child to the GP if you think they might have asthma, if they have a cough that won’t go away after three weeks, if they have a cough along with other symptoms, or if you’re worried.

If your child is feeling shivery and hot, if they have a very high temperature, or if you think they might have croup, take them to a GP or call NHS 111.

If they’re having trouble breathing, it could be a medical emergency and you need to go to A&E or call 999.

If your child's coughing is accompanied by a fever, or they have pain, you can give them ibuprofen (if they’re older than 3 months and weigh more than 5kg) or paracetamol(if they’re older than 2 months) for fever or pain relief. Try Nurofen for Children's 3 months - 9 years. It is specially formulated for little ones, provides up to 8-hour fever relief and starts to get to work in 15 minutes to reduce fever.

All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health matters for further information or medical advice, please speak to your doctor or pharmacist.