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What Your Child's Cough Is Trying To Tell You

There it goes again...and again...and again. It's the sound that grates on your nerves at the same time it rips out your heart: your child's cough. But, it may be trying to tell you something—if only you'll listen. Here are the five telltale cough sounds that offer clues to what may be ailing your child:

1. Barking

It may be croup. Croup is a viral illness that causes swelling and inflammation of the vocal cords. The cough sounds like a bark and may also be accompanied by stridor—a harsh, high-pitched wheeze—when breathing in.

2. Whooping

It may be pertussis. Commonly known as whooping cough, pertussis is a contagious respiratory illness. It can cause coughing fits in which children are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound as they gasp for breath. Hear it here.

3. Staccato

A repetitive cough with short, staccato sounds is a characteristic sign of the lung infection chlamydial pneumonia, especially in infants.

4. Dry

A persistent, dry cough may be a symptom of asthma, a disease affecting the lungs.

5. Wet

The common cold often produces a wet, productive-sounding cough with mucus or phlegm behind it.

Please resist the temptation to medicate children with a cough suppressant. Doing so may do more harm than good in most cases. However, if your child has had a persistent cough for a week or more, don't write it off as the common cold. Make an appointment with a pediatrician to determine if something else is going on, especially if your child appears ill and is working hard to breathe.

Daniel McGee, MD, is a pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital with special interest and expertise in childhood immunizations. Dr. McGee earned his medical degree at Rush Medical School in Chicago, Ill. He is certified through the American Board of Pediatrics and is a fellow with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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