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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
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Cough - Brief Version

What is a cough?

  • A cough helps gets infected fluid out of the lungs.
  • A cough can be dry or wet.

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 4 years old can usually control coughing by sucking on cough drops or hard candy.
    • Homemade cough syrup: For children less than 4 years old, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of corn syrup instead of cough drops.
    • 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.

    The cough reflex helps protect the lungs. Use cough- suppressant drugs only for dry coughs that interfere with sleep, going to school, or work. Do not give them to infants less than 1 year old or for wet coughs. Most nonprescription cough suppressants contain dextromethorphan (DM). Your child needs the medicine recommended by your physician.

  • Humidifiers in the treatment of cough. 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:

  • Your child has difficulty breathing AND is not better after you clear the nose.
  • 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, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems