It’s cold and flu season and most often cough accompanies these illnesses. Dr. Diane Holmes from Lurie Children’s Primary Care – Town & Country Pediatrics answers some common questions about coughs in children.
What causes a cough?
Many conditions can cause a cough, and these include:
- a cold or respiratory virus
- a foreign body (like a coin)
- and more!
If my child has a cough, how do we find the cause?
- A thorough history
- A comprehensive physical exam and
- Additional tests, in some cases—for example, an X-Ray
What are different types of coughs and how do you tell them apart?
- The sound of the cough is a clue, but it does not tell the whole story
- In most cases, the history and physical exam are sufficient
When do I call my doctor about a cough?
You usually do NOT need to call your child’s doctor about a cough if s/he:
- is not having difficulty breathing
- does not have shortness of breath
- has no fever
- is sleeping at night and
- is acting in his/her usual way
You need to call your child’s doctor when your child has these other symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing at chest level (not just nasal congestion)
- Fever—especially a fever that lasts longer than 72 hours
- Inability to drink or talk
- Sleep disruption for more than a couple of nights
- Mild coughs that last more than 4 weeks
My child seems to have a cold on a frequent basis, and this comes with coughing—is this normal?
Yes, a cold or respiratory virus often leads to coughing.
Young children can have a 12 colds a year; each cold can last two weeks or more. Sometimes two colds in quick succession can appear to be one long illness.
How do you treat a cough?
This depends on the cause. Unfortunately the most common cause of coughing in children in the winter is a respiratory virus, and nothing works well for this type of cough.
You may get some relief with cough medicine containing honey (for infants over 12 months) and a humidifier.
For a nighttime cough, one anecdotal remedy, reported by many families, is VaporRub on a child’s feet-with socks on; this certainly will not harm the child!