My Child Has... Article

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Cough: Brief Version


What is a cough?

A cough is a sudden forcing of air from the lungs. It is a common symptom of illness. A cough helps gets infected fluid out of the lungs. Your child may have a dry cough or a wet cough. A wet cough is when your child coughs up mucus.

What causes a cough?

Most coughs are caused by a viral infection of the trachea (windpipe) or bronchi (larger air passages in the lungs).

How can I take care of my child?

  • Medicines to loosen the cough and thin the secretions.
    • Cough drops: Children over 6 years old can usually control coughing by sucking on cough drops. If you do not have cough drops, you can use hard candy.
    • Homemade cough syrup: For children over 1 year old, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of honey.
    • Warm liquids for coughing: Warm liquids such as warm lemonade, warm apple juice, or warm herbal tea usually relax the airway and loosen up the mucus. (Avoid this if your child is less than 4 months old.)
  • Cough-suppressant medicines.

    Cough and cold medicines are not as helpful as honey. Do not give them to children under 4 years old. Coughing helps protect the lungs by clearing out germs.

    Fluids. Make sure your child drinks lots of water. This loosens mucus and prevents dehydration.

  • Humidifiers. Dry air tends to make coughs worse. Use a humidifier.
  • Active and passive smoking. Don't let anyone smoke around your coughing child. The cough could last weeks longer with smoke exposure.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • Breathing becomes fast or difficult when not coughing.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • A fever lasts more than 3 days.
  • The cough lasts more than 3 weeks.
  • You have other questions or concerns.

Written by B.D. Schmitt, MD, author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-06-03
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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