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5 Ways to tell your child’s cough is more than just a cold

It is impossible not to worry when your child is sick. Sometimes deciding whether to bring them to the doctor is difficult, because if you do, you’ll have to wait and possibly waste time, but if you don’t, you might be putting your child at risk.

Little girl coughing

So how can you tell if it’s just a cold or not? Here are five signs that your little one might need more than just cough syrup.


They seem short of breath

If your child seems to be working extra hard to get air in, then it might be an emergency. Look under their rib cage while they breathe. If you can see their ribs while they suck in air, don’t waste time. Shortness of breath can be a sign of a large number of conditions, including pneumonia, asthma and croup. It can come on suddenly and often gets worse at night, when they are lying down. If they are having an asthma attack, wheezing can sometimes be heard. If you’re worried that your child is short of breath, go to the nearest ER or urgent care centre.


They have a fever or a rash

Generally a fever or rash alone doesn’t mean anything serious is wrong. However, if the fever has been going on for five days or the rash is accompanied by behavioural changes in your child, then it might be a sign that this is more than just a cold. Never let a fever last more than five days without having your child seen by a physician.


They show a major change in behaviour or appetite

It’s normal for a child to be tired and not as active when they have a cold. However, if they are difficult to rouse, extremely irritable or they are saying things that don’t make sense, get them assessed by a physician immediately. Appetite is usually only a problem if they aren’t drinking enough to stay hydrated or they aren’t able to keep up with fluids lost from vomiting or diarrhea.


It’s been two weeks, and the cough is still going strong

If the cough won’t go away, then it’s always safest to get them checked out by a family physician or pediatrician. This could be a sign of whooping cough, especially if they haven’t been vaccinated.


The cough went away but came back weeks later

It could just mean your child is unlucky and has had two colds in a short span of time, but it could also be a sign of other conditions, like asthma. See your physician to be sure.

Learn how to chase away a cold at your first symptom >>

This information is not meant for infants under the age of 1. When in doubt, always check with a health care professional, because a child’s health is never something to gamble with.

Note: All medical information is directed at a Canadian audience. Speak with your physician before following through with any advice.

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