Deciphering Coughs

“Croup is one of the only diseases in which you can hear the cough and make the diagnosis from across the room,” says pediatrician Richard Scarfone. However, coughs characterize other illnesses as well. Here’s the lowdown on some of the most common coughs. All require a call or visit to your child’s doctor:

* Repetitive cough – Classically associated with pertussis (whooping cough). A child’s color may change; some kids’ lips turn blue, others’ faces turn red. The cough lasts 30 seconds or longer; after a coughing fit, the child still has difficulty breathing.

* Staccato cough – Resembles the sound of a machine gun. Physicians use the term to describe a cough that usually develops in children 4 to 6 weeks old. If it’s preceded by conjunctivitis, the baby may have a chlamydia infection, picked up from Mom during birth. It can be treated with antibiotics.

* Deep-in-the-chest cough – Has no distinctive sound. If associated with fever or rapid breathing, it could be pneumonia. “The doctor has to listen for abnormal sounds in the chest to make the diagnosis,” Scarfone says.

* Chronic cough – Coughing for three weeks or more. This could mean a sinus infection, asthma, tuberculosis or a foreign body lodged in the lung, causing infection.

* Wheezing cough – High, whistling sound. If you put an ear to your child’s chest, you can hear wheezing, particularly during exhalation. For children under 12 months, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is the likely cause. In older children, it may signify asthma.

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