We’ve all woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of our child having a terrible coughing fit in the next bedroom — so scary! Dr. Negron explains what may be causing your child’s cough and provides tips on how to help your child feel better.
Words by Dr. Larissa Negron
Though the sound of your child coughing can be worrisome, coughing is actually the body’s natural way to clear mucus and secretions out of the respiratory tract. There are many causes of cough in children. One of the most common causes is a viral upper respiratory tract infection, which is a much scarier name for the common cold. A cold usually peaks after two or three days and then improves over the course of two weeks. Most viral upper respiratory infections are self-limiting, which means the illness will resolve without treatment or antibiotics.
Treatments for cough such as over-the-counter medications (OTC), mucolytics, expectorants and anti-cough medicines have not been proven to be safe and effective in children and are not recommended. These products may prolong the illness by suppressing the cough reflex and letting mucus sit in the lower respiratory tract, where it can develop into a bacterial infection. Many OTC medications have side effects, and improper use could increase the possibility of overdose. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of OTC medications for cough in children.
Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of over-the-counter medications for cough in children?
There are ways to help alleviate the discomfort associated with viral coughing. Drinking plenty of fluids helps make the mucus thinner and easier to remove. Suctioning your baby’s nose with a few drops of nasal saline and having older children blow their noses helps alleviate the congestion and the associated cough. For children older than 1 year of age, a teaspoon of honey has been proven in clinical trials to decrease the frequency and severity of cough and to soothe the irritation of the upper airway. Honey should not be given to children younger than 1 year of age.
There are many other causes of cough in children, including asthma, bacterial infections and extra pulmonary causes. If your child’s cough is not taking the expected course of a viral illness, is worsening, persists for more than two weeks without improvement or is recurrent, further evaluation is warranted.
Cough accounts for the majority of visits to a pediatrician. When children become sick and are coughing, their sleep, school performance and ability to play is disrupted, so many parents understandably want the cough to stop. However, cough is part of the healing process during a viral illness, and letting the cough run its course with supportive treatment and observation is usually the best recipe for a quick recovery.
DR. LARISSA NEGRON is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at Windermere Pediatrics. Her special areas of interest include infectious diseases, nutrition and newborn medicine. She and her husband enjoy spending time with their son (age 8) and daughters (ages 4 and 2).