Your Child's Cough: Part 2
When to Call the Doctor
Most childhood coughs are nothing to be worried about. However, call your doctor if your child:
-has trouble breathing or is working hard to breathe
-is breathing more quickly than usual
-has a blue or dusky color to the lips, face, or tongue
-has a high fever (especially if your child is coughing but does NOT have a runny or stuffy nose)
-has any fever and is less than 3 months old
-is an infant (3 months old or younger) who has been coughing for more than a few hours
-makes a "whooping" sound when breathing in after coughing
-is coughing up blood
-has stridor (a noisy or musical sound) when breathing in
-has wheezing when breathing out (unless you already have a home asthma care plan from your doctor)
-is weak, cranky, or irritable
What Your Doctor Will Do
One of the best ways to diagnose a cough is by listening. Knowing what the cough sounds like will help your doctor decide how to treat your child. The treatment for different types of coughs can vary, based on the cause.
Because most coughs are caused by viruses, doctors usually do not give antibiotics for a cough. A cough caused by a virus just needs to run its course. A viral infection can last for as long as 2 weeks.
Unless a cough won't let your child sleep, cough medicines are not needed. They might help a child stop coughing, but do not treat the cause of the cough. If you do choose to use an over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine, call the doctor to be sure of the correct dose and to make sure it's safe for your child.
Do not use OTC combination medicines like "Tylenol Cold" — they have more than one medicine in them, and kids can have more side effects and are more likely to get an overdose of the medicine.
Cough medicines are not recommended for children under age 4.
Here are some ways to help your child feel better:
If your child has asthma, make sure you have an asthma care plan from your doctor. The plan should help you choose the right asthma medicines to give.
For a "barky" or "croupy" cough, turn on the hot water in the shower in your bathroom and close the door so the room will steam up. Then, sit in the bathroom with your child for about 20 minutes. The steam should help your child breathe more easily. Try reading a book together to pass the time.
A cool-mist humidifier in your child's bedroom might help with sleep.
Sometimes a brief exposure to the cool air of the outdoors can relieve the cough. Make sure to dress your child appropriately for the outdoor weather and try this for 10-15 minutes.
Cool beverages like juice can be soothing and it is important to keep your child hydrated. But do not give soda or orange juice, as these can hurt a throat that is sore from coughing.
You should not give your child (especially a baby or toddler) OTC cough medicine without first checking with your doctor.
Cough drops are OK for older kids, but kids younger than 3 years old can choke on them. It's better to avoid cough drops unless your doctor says that they're safe for your child.