Coughs in Children

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Cough in children is one of the commonest symptoms of an illness present in a child. It may sometimes sound horrifying but it does not usually connote a serious illness. In truth, coughing is considered a healthy reflex that helps protect the airways in the throat and chest

Types of Coughs in Children

There are several different types of coughs. Understanding the different types and their meaning will help parents understand the proper treatment for each cough.

  • “Barking” cough
    • Usually caused by viral upper respiratory infection, croup caused by allergies or change in night temperature
    • Inflammation of airway causing the larynx (voice box) to swell
    • “Whooping” cough
      • Whooping sound occurs after the cough, when the child tries to take a deep breath after a few rapid coughing
      • Usually caused by pertussis which may be fatal
      • Cough with wheezing
        • Cough is supplemented by wheezing sound during expiration
        • Blockage of lower airway
        • Usually caused by swelling from asthma, respiratory infection such as, bronchiolitis and pneumonia or an object lodged in the airway
        • Stridor
          • Noisy, severe breathing during inspiration
          • Usually caused by swelling of upper airway (often caused  by croup)
          • Sudden cough
            • Child swallowed something that entered the trachea (windpipe) and/ or remains in the throat
            • Coughing, as a reflex, will clear the way until irritant disappears
            • Daytime cough
              • Generally caused by allergies, asthma, colds and other respiratory infections
              • Can be aggravated by cold air or activity and diminish at night
              • Nighttime cough
                • Generally caused by asthma
                • Airways become more sensitive and irritable at night
                • May be worsened be worsened by nasal congestion and cause irritation to the throat
                • Cough with cold
                  • Often due to viral infection
                  • Normal to occur with the common cold, but symptoms typically last a week
                  • Cough with fever
                    • If accompanied by mild fever and runny nose, probably due to a cold
                    • If fever is 102°F (39°C) accompanied by rapid breathing, may be showing symptoms of pneumonia
                    • Cough with vomiting
                      • Cough triggers a gag reflex which may lead to the child throwing up
                      • Usually harmless unless persistent vomiting
                      • Persistent cough (particularly those lasting three weeks or more)
                        • May connote a chronic infection, asthma or allergies
                        • Cough in young infants
                          • May be due to respiratory syncytial virus (common in infants)
                            • May lead to severe respiratory problems

Causes and First Aid Management for Coughs in Children

The following are common causes of cough and how they can be managed effectively at home, without requiring a visit to the doctor.

  • Infection (flu, common cold, croup, etc.)
    • Take hard candies or cough drops but used only as directed.
    • Moist air may help children with croup, such as humidifier or steam baths
    • Acid reflux
      • Avoid eating foods that trigger acid reflux
      • Do not eat two hours before bedtime.
      • Eat smaller meals.
      • Asthma
        • Avoid the triggers or those irritants that lead to asthma attacks.
        • In cases of asthma attack, follow the asthma plan of the child.
        • Allergies/ Sinusitis
          • Identify the allergens and avoid all these allergens.
          • In cases of allergic reaction, take antihistamines.

A popular home remedy for coughs in children is honey. For children between two to five years of age, give half a teaspoon of honey. One teaspoon is recommended for children aged between six and twelve, whereas for children aged 12 and above, two teaspoons of honey can be given.

When to Call a Doctor Regarding Coughs in Children

It may be hard to tell when it is time to call a doctor because coughs are usually ignored. However, when any of the following symptoms begin to show, a visit to the doctor may be necessary.

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Cyanosis of the lips, tongue or face
  • High-grade fever
  • Three months old or younger
  • Presence of blood in coughs
  • “Whooping” coughs
  • Stridor coughs
  • Wheezing sounds

Understanding coughs in children and other respiratory conditions may help when taking first aid courses, which are highly recommended for all parents.

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