Children with colds or other respiratory illnesses will likely develop a cough. While most coughs are not harmful and will go away with some basic home remedies, some others must be watched carefully and could require extra medical attention.
During cold and flu season, it’s not unusual to hear both adults and kids complaining of a cough.
Dr. Cooper White from Akron Children’s Hospital says the vast majority of common coughs are caused by viral illnesses such as Rhinovirus and flu.
“Coughs can be bothersome,” he says. “If you are just dealing with a cold viral infection, those can last for a couple weeks.”
Picking up the typical children’s cough medicines at the drugstore may seem popular, but it’s not recommended.
“The pediatric world has moved away from cough and cold medicines for a couple of reasons,” White says. “There is little evidence of the effectiveness and cough medicines are often used wrong.”
He recommends several at-home treatments, including honey (for ages 1 and older), chicken noodle soup, nasal saline and suction, rest and TLC.
White also stresses the importance of getting the flu shot for you and your children, adding, “It’s a very common viral illness and is preventable.”
Hearing your infant cough might cause concern. While most coughs are a result of the common cold, there are others that can be more alarming.
Pertussis, commonly called “whooping cough,” is most hazardous for young infants, White says.
“It’s sometimes referred to as the 100-day cough,” he says. “The infection will go away with antibiotics. The problem with the treatment is that it doesn’t change the nature of the cough.”
The continuous coughing, during which oxygen levels become low as the child struggles to take a breath between spasms, is concerning and can be fatal.
“The cough of pertussis is more severe than any other cough we know; the coughing spell is beyond what’s expected for a normal cold,” White says. “Once a child gets pertussis, there is a lifetime immunity and (he or she) can’t get it again.”
White says in this area, the cases tend to be more sporadic, however, pertussis is a public health concern as it is contagious. He suggests your child should stay with their vaccine schedule. They should receive the pertussis DTaP series as an infant, then a booster in the first two years of life, and again at ages 4 to 6, along with the Tdap vaccine at ages 11 to 12, to help prevent this infection.
Croup, which is a narrowing and obstruction of airflow, is another cough that mostly affects children ages 5 and younger.
“Croup, typically a barky sounding cough, is one of the recognizable illnesses caused by a virus,” he says.
A child will have cold-type symptoms and might develop stridor, which is a harsh, stressed sound when the child breathes in. While there is no vaccine for croup, home treatments such as steam therapy and doctor-prescribed medicines, depending on the severity of the case, are recommended.
Asthma can come at any age and White says the number of cases has been increasing over the past 20 years. The most common symptom is chronic coughing and wheezing.
Seek medical advice for any concerns, particularly if breathing is difficult or your child is in distress, has a severe or chronic coughs lasting more than two weeks, or is coughing up blood.
P. Cooper White, MD, FAAP, is medical staff president at Akron Children’s Hospital, director of the Locust Pediatric Care Group and associate chair for Primary Care and Community Health. Visit akronchildrens.org