By Health Promotion Board in collaboration with Dr. Yvonne Ng, Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology, National University Hospital.

It can be troubling to hear your little one coughing or wheezing.

Coughing is the body’s natural way of clearing the airway of mucus and other irritants, such as dust and cigarette smoke. Your baby coughs when irritants affect his nose, throat, airway and lungs. Your baby may also cough when he is recovering from a cold. Severe coughing with high fever and breathing difficulties may indicate your baby has a lung infection (pneumonia).

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound when your baby breathes out. It may indicate an infection or inflammation of the small airways of the lungs. 

Coughing may be normal but wheezing is not. Coughing and wheezing can be signs of acute bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis occurs in infants and children less than two years old. It is caused by viruses that infect the small breathing airways, commonly the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

Treatment is supportive—to help your little one feel better while he recovers on his own. If your baby has a fever, you can give him paracetamol for relief. Make sure that your baby continues to feed on breast milk/formula to avoid dehydration.

Babies who are severely affected with bronchiolitis (e.g. breathing difficulties, unable to feed well) may need hospital admission for oxygen therapy and intravenous hydration.

Related: First Days of Our Lives with Baby

Should I See a Doctor

Monitor the situation and see a doctor if you note the following red flags:

  • Your child has difficulty breathing, e.g. breathing faster than usual, indrawing (sucking) of chest wall and ribs, wheezing sounds
  • Your child has a high fever, i.e. temperatures above 39 degrees Celsius
  • Your child is unable to feed well


Related: Common Childhood Conditions—Fever

Let's Clear the Air

A clean environment can reduce irritants that might be causing your child to cough. You can follow these tips to create better environment for your baby:  

  • Avoid exposing your baby to second-hand cigarette smoke
  • Remove items that can collect dust such as stuffed toys, heavy curtains, carpets
  • Wash sheets and blankets in hot water at least 60 degrees Celsius at least two times in one month
  • Practice good hand hygiene to prevent common viruses at home 

Let’s clear the air so that your baby can breathe easy, and you can rest easy.

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