Mothers' beliefs and evaluations of their child's illness were studied in a group of 30 mothers who had consulted a general practitioner because of a cough. Data were collected by tape-recorded semi-structured interviews conducted in their own homes. A major concern for mothers was their fear that their child was going to die, usually because of choking on phlegm or vomit, but also through an asthma attack or cot death. Mothers were also worried that their child would develop long-term chest damage. Particularly important in mothers' assessments were their experience of disturbed sleep because of worries about their child dying at night and their belief that the cough was 'on the chest' which gave rise to worries about dying through choking on phlegm and long-term chest damage. Antibiotics were commonly believed to be required to break up phlegm which might cause the long-term damage or the choking and death.