My child has a cough – when do I call 911?

My child has a cough – when do I call 911?

“My child has a cough – when do I call 911?”  This guide should help answer this question!  These are general recommendations based on the best-practice guidelines in 2015 and could change – so always follow your physician’s advice first.  Your doctor should give you detailed instructions on when it is appropriate to seek medical attention for your child given their specific health needs.

When to seek immediate medical attention:

My child is coughing AND…

  • Is turning blue or pale.
  • Is listless, unable to be awoken or unresponsive to attempts to stimulate them.
  • Is agitated and struggling to breathe.
  • My child has asthma or Reactive Airway Disease and use of emergency rescue inhaler has failed.
  • My child has had a bee-sting or exposure to allergen (e.g., peanuts) that is causing sudden difficulty breathing.
  • My child may have swallowed or inhaled an object.
  • Is less than 3 months of age and is coughing continuously.
  • Is coughing up a lot of blood (soaking a kleenex with blood)

If this is your child do not attempt to drive them to the emergency room.  Instead call 911 and allow the ambulance service come to you.  Stay on the line with the 911 operator and follow their instructions while you wait for the medics to arrive.  

When to drive your child to the emergency room: 

My child is coughing AND…

  • Is drooling, unable to swallow.
  • Wants to sit up, leaning over (this is the only way they can catch their breath).
  • Is using muscles of the neck or chest to breathe, or you see the skin “sucked in” around the ribs as the child struggles to breathe.
  • Has a whistling sound with breathing, or excessively noisy breathing.
  • Was submerged under water for any length of time (near-drowning experience) – even if he/she seemed fine shortly afterwards.

When to call your health care provider:

My child is coughing AND…

  • Is vomiting.
  • Refuses to eat or drink.
  • None of my at-home supportive treatments are working.
  • There is blood mixed with the mucus that he/she is coughing up.
  • Has asthma or reactive airway disease.
  • Has had allergies in the past.
  • Has had a fever over 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) for more than 3 days.
  • Has been coughing more than 7 days.
  • Has recently had a vaccination (within 4 days).
  • Has other health concerns that you need to discuss with his/her doctor.

My child has asthma and is coughing – what should I do?

Follow the Asthma Action Plan guidelines given to you by your physician.  If you have no plan in place call your doctor and request an Asthma Action Plan.  Give your child his/her rescue inhaler or asthma support tincture or natural asthma control medicine immediately – as recommended by his/her physician.  If there is no improvement follow the guidelines above for when to seek emergency medical attention.

For more information about Asthma read:

A Naturopathic Approach to Treating Asthma: Part I

A Naturopathic Approach to Treating Asthma: Part II

Allergies, asthma and eczema: The Th1/Th2 story


My child has a cough, when do I call 911?

Erika Krumbeck

Erika Krumbeck, ND is founder of and the owner of Montana Whole Health, a naturopathic clinic in Missoula, Montana. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University and is a licensed physician in the state of Montana. Dr. Krumbeck is one of few physicians specializing in the treatment of chronic health conditions in children. 

Dr. Krumbeck likes to practice her own healthy lifestyle with her wonderful husband Jason, a physical therapist, and their children Annika and Leopold. 

She is a professional member of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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