What is a cough?

A cough is a healthy and important reflex that helps protect the airways in the throat and chest. Your child coughs when nerves in areas such as the pharynx (upper throat), larynx (throat), trachea (main breathing tube) or large bronchi (breathing tubes in the lungs) are irritated.

If your child’s cough is accompanied by other symptoms such as a blocked nose, sore throat or fever, they may have a cold. Coughing is the body’s way of removing excess mucous that is typically produced during a cold.

Characteristics of your child’s cough can often give clues to its underlying cause. For example, whooping cough (pertussis) causes a cough that sounds like a “whoop”. If the cough sounds like hoarse or like a bark, it may be croup which may occur in children up to 2 years old. A wheezing sound could be caused by narrow airways as a result of asthma or a blockage. Coughs that occur seasonally may also be associated with asthma or allergic rhinitis.

Therefore, whilst coughs are usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection like a cold or flu, they could be the sign of something more serious, or may be caused by other medical conditions, so it’s important to get it checked out if you’re worried.

What is a sore throat?

A sore throat is often visible as inflammation or redness at the back of the throat. The main parts of the throat that are usually affected are the pharynx (causing pharyngitis), the tonsils (causing tonsillitis), or the larynx (which contains the vocal cords and results in laryngitis).

Children often experience sore throats, particularly in their early school years and during autumn or winter. Your child’s sore throat may occur alongside other symptoms such as headache, difficulty swallowing and swollen glands. They might also feel ill, nauseous, and more tired than usual.

Sore throats can be caused by pollution, colds and flu, as well as allergy triggers, and dry air. Similar to a cough, the characteristics of the sore throat can give clues to its underlying cause. Common colds and flu can cause an inflamed throat where it hurts to swallow. Alternatively, a dry, tickly throat may have been irritated by dust, air conditioning or passive smoking. Talking or shouting can also result in a husky voice where it’s painful to talk.

Relieving coughs and sore throats

  • Give your child soft food and keep them hydrated
  • Child sore throat remedies include saltwater gargles and drinking cool or warm liquids
  • Pain relievers like Nurofen for Children can help to temporarily relieve pain associated with colds and flu, and sore throats.    
  • Child cough relief for those aged over 6 years may include over-the-counter cough medicines and throat lozenges
  • Don’t give cough medicines to children under 6 years – always check with your doctor or pharmacist


If your child is suffering cold and flu symptoms, current NZ guidance is to stay home and call

Healthline (0800 358 5453) for advice. For more information, please contact your doctor.


This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.


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