It's that time of year. School has started, and even though we home school, we're officially “carriers” for the latest form of kiddie plague. The coughing has come full-force, and I lay awake at night listening to tiny hacks and moans, wondering what more I could do. Here's an official guide to the most common causes, and what you can do to help.

The Common Cold – Yeah, it's just a cold. But to your child, it can feel more like the end of the world. Take the cold seriously by treating the symptoms promptly, and be on the look out for more serious problems (listed below.)

Allergies – Don't let the commonness of allergies deceive you; they can cause all kinds of problems for little ones – including a horrific cough. Since allergies from any source (pollen, animals, dust) can cause nasal drainage, coughing can be a sign that allergies are getting the best of your child. There are many over-the-counter remedies that may help, but soothing the throat may be your best defense. Try a sugar-free, natural throat lozenge or plenty of liquids to keep their throat from getting to dry and scratchy. Keep the room clean and at a healthy humidity level with a vaporizer. Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep, and see your doctor if symptoms don't get any better.

Croup – This cough should really be called “crap.” That yucky cough makes your little one sound like an unlucky victim in Steven King's “The Stand.” When they aren't smiling at you with glassy eyes, they are coughing uncontrollably and spraying God knows what from their germy mouths. Croup is usually accompanied by a barking seal sound when coughing and difficult or labored breathing. While not an actual illness itself (it's more of a symptom) croup can become problematic, especially in kids younger than 3. If caused by a virus, try to contain the little one (that means no school), and ease the symptoms with traditional methods. Fever, runny nose, and difficulty sleeping are par for the course, but if serious problems occur (severe breathing troubles, blue appearance, or difficulty swallowing) call a doctor – pronto. For more info on the croup, see Kids' Health.org.

Whooping Cough – Formally called “Pertussis”, whooping cough has been immunized against in recent years in the U.S. It is characterized by a “whooping” sound when the sufferer attempts to regain their breathing during a coughing fit, but this symptom isn't always present. Since pertussis vaccinations are administered very young, it is common for older children to be susceptible again once the immunization has faded. It is also possible for very young babies who haven't been vaccinated yet to become infected. Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that is highly contagious! When treated properly with antibiotics, it can be managed, but it is important to get an early diagnosis. If you suspect that you child may have pertussis or hasn't been immunized yet, see your pediatrician. For more information, see the pertussis page at Kids' Health.org.

Asthma – This cough often comes on at night, and is unproductive and relentless. If your child has difficulty catching his or her breath after exercise or in cold air, see your doctor. Asthma is something you don't want to try to handle yourself.

There are many other causes for coughing: bronchitis, bronchiolitis, gastric issues, and various infections. If you find reason for concern, discuss any worries with your doctor. Most of the time, coughing is not serious. For those other times, it is best to let the professionals ease your mind.