What are Some Causes of Persistent Cough in Children?

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  • Written By: Ashley Farris
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 23 December 2019
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Coughing, which accounts for about 3 percent of all medical consultations, is a very common symptom in children. An acute cough is one that lasts for up to three weeks, and it typically is caused by an upper respiratory infection, such as the common cold. A persistent cough in children, one that lasts for three weeks or more, is reason for concern and requires a medical consultation for diagnosis. Possible causes of chronic cough are asthma, sinus or nasal infection, esophageal issues, foreign bodies and irritants.

Asthma is a common airway disease that results in the inflammation of the airway. Wheezing often accompanies an asthmatic cough, as do shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. As much as half of all adolescents suffering from asthma present with a cough as their only symptom, so it is important not to rule out asthma as a possibility, even without additional symptoms.

Nasal and sinus infections such as sinusitis and postnasal drip, which is caused by rhinitis, also can produce a persistent cough in children. Signs of rhinitis, also known as hay fever, include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose and itching of the eyes and nose. These symptoms will most often appear as seasonal allergies. Year-round symptoms indicate exposure to indoor allergens.


Gastroesophageal reflux is very common in infants and occurs when stomach fluid moves up the throat, causing a child to choke. A child will present with a hoarse voice and choking, in this case. Reflux normally subsides after a child reaches 1 year old. When it begins to cause secondary physical problems such as coughing, however, it is necessary to seek treatment.

Foreign bodies and irritants also are likely causes of persistent cough in children. After it is lodged in a child’s airway, a toy or other foreign object can remain there for months. This is more common in children who are 2 to 4 years old. Exposure to pollutants and cigarette smoke will cause breathing problems in children and can result in coughing. Parents should abstain from smoking around their children to avoid this risk.

Viral infection also is a consideration in diagnosing persistent cough in children. Frequently misdiagnosed as asthma, infection can be brought on by one of many viruses. Coughing results from inflammation of the airways, and the infection will subside without treatment.

Habitual cough is diagnosed by exclusion of all physical causes and instead has psychological roots. This cough might result from obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, nervousness or anxiety. Habitual cough does not occur while the sufferer is sleeping and tends to be worse under stress. A persistent cough in children that does not have an apparent physical source might be a habitual cough and might require psychological treatment.

Any cough that does not respond to over-the-counter medication and remains after three weeks is considered a chronic cough. There are several causes of persistent cough in children, some of them life-threatening, so medical attention should be sought for diagnosis. There are many ways to treat a cough, and choosing the correct method is vital to the health of a child.


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Post 3

My niece had habit cough for a while. It was treated with speech therapy and psychological therapy. The doctor felt that the cough developed because my niece needed and wanted more attention from her parents. I think that's true because since she started spending more time with her dad, her cough disappeared. The speech therapy helped as well but the psychological aspect was obviously more influential.

Post 2

@turquoise-- How old is your son? Does he have a fever or difficulty breathing? If he is very young and if you see such symptoms, you need to take him to a hospital right away. These could be symptoms of a serious infection. Especially difficulty breathing, in addition to coughing, fever and fatigue could be sign of whooping cough which can be very dangerous for young children.

If he doesn't have fever, then the cough is probably due to allergies. Regardless, you need to take him to a doctor again because the cause o the persistent cough needs to be diagnosed.

Post 1

My son developed a persistent dry cough a few weeks ago. He also has some fatigue, but I have not noticed any other symptoms. We saw a doctor the day after his cough started and he recommended cough medicine assuming that it was a cold. But it has been two weeks and the cough persists. We're worried and we can't figure out what is causing the cough.

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