In the current climate of coronavirus fear, even the start of a mild cough can be cause for concern. The fact that young children may be unable to describe other, less obvious symptoms can make the start of a cough even more worrying.
But a cough doesn't necessarily mean Covid-19, of course. As well as being caused by other less serious respiratory illnesses such as a cold, a cough may be caused by asthma, which is diagnosed in around one in 11 children and, unlike other lung diseases, has a far higher incidence in children than in adults.
But, as World Asthma Day (May 5) approaches, how can you tell the difference between an asthma cough and a coronavirus cough? Here, the experts answer questions about spotting the difference.
My child has started coughing - what should I do?
GP and respiratory expert Dr Noel Baxter, medical adviser at Asthma UK, says: "If your child has a new cough or their cough is getting worse, you should contact your GP to get the right advice and find out what to do next. You shouldn't try to diagnose your child on your own."
What are the main differences between an asthma cough and a Covid-19 one?
The Asthma Society of Ireland (asthma.ie) says: "The respiratory symptoms associated with Covid-19 are similar to asthma - shortness of breath, and cough. The symptom which differentiates asthma from Covid-19 is experiencing a new fever. Fever is the symptom that has been most common of any symptom in confirmed cases of Covid-19."
Baxter adds: "Are other people in the home having temperatures and coughs? This could be Covid-19, but remember this could also be other bacterial or viral infections of the respiratory system that are still around at this time of year.
"If your child is having a cough because of asthma, they may also be wheezing. This is a faint whistling sound that comes from your child's chest. The cough will tend to be dry with sometimes a small amount of pale yellow phlegm."
My child already has asthma - how do I tell if it's causing her cough?
Baxter advises parents to look at their child's written personal asthma action plan, made with their health care professional.
"This will refresh your memory about what your child's asthma symptoms are normally like," he says.
"This is by far the best place to start. After the pandemic, this asthma action plan will continue to help you and your child whenever they get respiratory symptoms in the future.
"Covid-19, just like any other winter cold virus, can trigger an asthma attack. This would be the most likely impact of Covid-19 in a child with asthma. That's good news because we have rapidly effective treatments for an asthma attack, which will be detailed in your asthma action plan.
"Although this is less common, your child may have a cough because the Covid-19 virus has caused an airways infection, which includes the more serious situation of pneumonia. So, it's possible to have an asthma cough and a Covid-19 cough at the same time."
What normally triggers your child's cough?
Baxter says parents of children who already have asthma should ascertain whether the child has been exposed to any of their usual asthma triggers.
"For example, did the cough start after walking through the park where the grass has just been mown," he asks.
"Are they being more exposed than usual to the air freshener in your home? Have they been stroking a cat? If the cough seems to be linked to any of their usual triggers, it's more likely to be asthma."
What does your child's cough sound like?
It's not easy for doctors to tell what's causing a cough just by its sound.
"There are a few situations where we can, such as croup, which sounds like a loud barking noise. While doctors might get some clues, it's quite hard to tell what's causing the cough just by sound," explains Baxter.
How long have they had the cough for?
Asthma coughs may develop over weeks, whereas with Covid-19, the cough starts and gets worse in hours or days, not weeks, says Baxter. "If your child has had an asthma attack before, you will probably remember that the cough tends to be worse in the morning and at night," he adds. "This variation depending on the time of day is quite common with asthma. You wouldn't expect this with the Covid-19 cough as much."
What should I do if I think my child's cough is asthma?
Make an appointment with your GP. Also try to keep a diary of their symptoms and take it to the appointment, advises Baxter.
"Getting a confirmed asthma diagnosis for your child can be worrying for many parents," he adds. "But your doctor will give you a personal action plan for your child. If your child takes their medicines regularly, goes for asthma reviews and uses the correct inhaler technique, they and you can feel confident that having asthma won't hold them back from doing anything.
"Remember, if your child is coughing or their asthma symptoms are worsening, make an urgent appointment to talk to your GP. Getting their symptoms under control cuts the risk of an asthma attack."