Coughing is a reaction designed to clear the airway of mucus and foreign material and is not always a “bad thing”. It is a common symptom and can occur suddenly or as a long-term symptom, depending on the cause. A cough can be due to an infection, asthma or an allergy.  Treatment is generally based on the underlying cause.

Are all coughs alike?

There are several different types of coughs. A good description of your child’s cough can help the doctor find the cause. Coughs can be wet sounding or dry. Coughs can sometimes be described as a harsh, deep cough; a barking, “seal-like” cough; or a high-pitched, “tight cough.”

When your child coughs is also important. You should take note of whether the cough occurs with eating or exercise, during the day or night, or is due to something your child is exposed to (like a pet or pollen). Your child may cough once or twice and then stop, or cough several times in a row.

What is the treatment?

The treatment of a cough should mainly be directed to its cause. Once the cause is known, it can usually be controlled.   Over the counter cough medications are generally not recommended under the age of 6 since they have not shown to be effective and have side effects that can possibly harm your child.  Cough suppressants should not be used in children with asthma since their cough can indicate worsening chest tightness.  Cough treatments could include any of the following:

  • Identifying and avoiding any irritating causes (such as cigarette smoke)
  • Mist therapy using humidifiers or vaporizers (Hot steam vaporizers are not safe. They may burn your child). Follow the cleaning instructions that come with the machine so the vaporizer doesn’t grow germs and mold
  • consider using honey in children above the age of 2: 1- 2 tsp (10ml) at bedtime has shown to naturally suppress cough

When to call the Doctor:

Call your doctor if:

  • Your child has a cough with lethargy or irritability (does not smile or show interest in play for at least a few minutes during any four-hour period)
  • Your child has a fever lasting more than three days
  • Your child develops new symptoms (For example: wheezing or stomach pain)
  • Your child has a history of asthma and their cough is worsening even with use of breathing treatments
  • Your child experiences breathing problems:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fast, shallow breathing
    • A blue color to the lips and skin
    • Chest retractions (Skin pulling in around the ribs when breathing)
  • Your child has problems taking the medicine ordered by his doctor
  • Your child has a cough that often wakes him up at night

What will happen if the cough is not treated?

Every patient with a consistent cough (more than two-four weeks) should be evaluated. The doctor will be able to focus on what is causing the cough and treat the cough as needed.

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